Autumn Term 2018
To be literate literally means ‘to be able to read and write’ and to be literate enables us to access other areas of learning and fascination. It is without doubt a key aim of ours, to ensure that the children at Little Stars are literate beings by the time they leave us. This does not mean we expect them to write and read sentences. We do not use flash cards or work sheets. We do not have “literacy lessons”. So how do our Little Stars become literate, right from the moment they come through our doors? Over the next few weeks of this term I will be looking at the building blocks that build the foundations of literacy, from playing in gloop, to sharing stories, from managing and understanding their own emotions and behaviours to going on a walk together.
Headlines recently from Education Secretary, Damian Hinds reported the “scandal” of children starting school unable to talk in sentences and read simple words. The new proposed changes to the EYFS includes emphasis on vocabulary in the area of ‘communication and language’. Whilst that warrants unpicking (maybe at a later stage but for starters, Michael Rosen gives a valid response ) let’s look at how we develop effective language and communication each day from the youngest to oldest.
First and foremost therefore is something that appears the most simple and yet arguably the most important factor : speaking together, with children rather than at children . Staff at Little Star Nursery ensure that they spend quality time talking with the children and not just through guided activities but spontaneous conversation that relies on sustained shared thinking where both parties contribute to the interaction.
Sustained shared thinking relies on quality questioning with open ended responses so as to eliminate the child’s feeling of a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. It involves tuning in to what the child is really saying and not just what we think they should be saying; showing genuine interest: giving good eye contact, smiling, nodding; asking children to elaborate as well as giving them opportunities for extended vocabulary: “I really want to know more about that”, “Yes it is a car. It’s a big, red car”; clarifying ideas: “So you think this ball will go faster. Shall we try?”; suggesting, using encouragement and extending thinking: “I can see you’ve drawn a very happy face. Shall we add some ears maybe?”
So what can you do at home to hep your children read and write? It’s as simple as talking…about anything…what you see in Tesco, what’s happening in Paw Patrol, sharing books (any books), build up vocabulary by describing what you see, sing together, ask open ended questions and never ask anything that you don’t think they may not know the answer to. Be interested in your child, share their wonder, their joy and humour.
Someone who worked in a nursery “class” recently asked me how often do we read to the children? “All the time” I replied, to her surprise as the children in her class could go a whole day without having reading “scheduled” in as it didn’t meet the learning outcomes prescribed for that day. What learning outcome cannot be covered by books and story? Story telling is one of the oldest traditions we have (in fact one of the oldest books, The Bible, is based on story telling).
Let’s look at the evidence and “science” behind reading. Storytelling and shared reading activities have consistently been shown to improve children’s language comprehension skills (put simply, how they understand what words mean in the very beginning). You look at and share pictures together. A baby points to a picture of a zebra and you tell them the word. As they develop speech they say the word ‘zebra’. You build upon that, ‘Yes a stripy zebra’. As the child grows they ask more questions and you give explanations: “The zebra is eating” and eventually the child will learn that the zebra is eating grass in the plains of Africa and so on and so on. This knowledge is learnt much better and more fully by seeing and discussing rather than having an abstract idea given to them.
As the books give visual cues, so the children learn to de code what they are seeing. They know that the pictures carry meaning and after listening to the story being told, they can tell the story for themselves. This de coding will lead on to realising that the letters on the page make words and these are the words that carry the meaning. The way you share a book with your child can also help them along the road to reading. Books with rhyming endings encourage them to finish the lines; talking about what they have just read; about the characters; what they liked, what they didn’t like. Connect it to your own experiences (we had to look for hairy toes in our vegetable patch last Summer when we picked the beans!).
‘The Hairy Toe’ is certainly one of the firm favourites with both Rising and Shooting Stars and we hear the children telling the story over and over again. This brings me onto the subject of the type of story or book you are reading. Really one could argue that there is no such thing as a right or wrong book and this is true as long as it fires the imagination. The Hairy Toe is so scarily brilliant as it builds tension right from the start and ends with a terrifying climax, that gets to the children each time, even though we know the ending. ‘The Bugaboo’ is another favourite that has deliciously fiendish characters in; the children roar with laughter each time I read ‘The Book with no words’ even though they know each time what the format is (and always ends up with me making very silly noises). We all love to be a little bit shocked, just look at the popularity of Roal Dahl whose characters are wickedly wonderful. Sadly compare these to the vast majority of reading scheme books children are introduced to at school……
But it’s not just books. The techniques of ‘Active story making’ brings stories alive and is based on the oldest way of telling stories: verbally. Using a simple story, such as the Rising Stars have been doing with ‘Dear Zoo’ they can use props to help them tell the story with each other.
In brief, enjoy books together. The best experiences are shared ones. When you love reading them 9 times out of 10 the children will love listening to them.