Wells (1985) showed that the amount of time spent listening to stories between 1 and three years of age was significantly correlated with their language skills at five years of age and their reading comprehension skills at seven years of age. Similarly, Stevenson and Fredman (1990) found a significant relationship between the frequency of parent-child shared reading when children were pre-schoolers and their reading, spelling, and IQ scores at 13 years of age.
For many reasons, such as, lack of time or availability of the right books, some children will not have had a rich literacy experience before they come to early years settings. Such children don't fall behind, they start behind and we need to ensure they don't stay there. The most recent OFSTED schedule Sept 2019 has highlighted the importance of sharing stories with children, highlighting…
296 Stories, poems, rhymes and non-fiction are chosen for reading to develop pupils’ vocabulary, language comprehension and love of reading. Pupils are familiar with and enjoy listening to a wide range of stories, poems, rhymes and non-fiction.
65 When observing interactions between staff and children, inspectors should consider how well staff:
• engage in dialogue with children
• watch, listen and respond to children
• model language well
• read aloud and tell stories to children
• encourage children to sing songs, nursery rhymes and musical games
• encourage children to express their thoughts and use new words
The quality of the relationships and interactions between children and adults in early years settings is now going to be considered by OFSTED. So, how, in a busy early years setting, do we develop a ‘love of reading’ ?
Maybe we have to look at it in a different way. As professionals working with young children we do need to prioritise the ‘reading aloud’ of poems, rhymes and stories, but …we also need to engage with parents - letting them know what we believe will make a difference to their child's life chances. Does that sound rather far-fetched?
Well, it happens that a love of reading before learning to read, aids the process of learning to read. And, because it is a close and emotional activity that requires an adult to be ‘emotionally attached’ to a child it not only supports early language acquisition but also supports the development of social and emotional development – that attachment that Bowlby recognised is critical to emotional resilience in later life.
Yes, that bedtime story (that the parent may or may not have experienced as a child themselves), is not a just a pleasant ‘luxury’ but a powerfully important activity which
• supports the development of neural connections in the brain, helping children to make connections between one experience and another
• develops emotional bonding between the adult and the child
Those of us who work in the EYFS are fortunate, whether in settings or schools. We do not have a prescriptive curriculum. We are driven by assessment for learning - the Early Years Foundation Stage talks about the 'unique' child. Matching individual needs should mean ensuring every child’s set of skills and knowledge is being catered for.
As practitioners working with young children, we should take note of all the information we have about the children to whom we are (a) key persons. If through our home visits, conversations with parents and carers and the wider community (children's centres, health professionals etc) we discover that the child's set of skills and knowledge is not being appropriately topped up at home for whatever reason, we are bound surely to ensure we top it up when they are in our care.
So, most especially for those children who have not had a regular bed time story experience:
• prioritising the sharing of stories, poems, rhymes and songs.
• creating enabling spaces for story sharing – comfy for both the child and the adult
• arranging the books in such a way as to ‘entice’ children in
• knowing the sorts of books that are likely to engage children and ensuring that there are multiple copies of books that become favourites
• making sure there are professional development opportunities for all practitioners to get to know all of the books
• reading and re-reading favourite stories so that children can have ‘conversations’ about these stories ….will help all children to develop what is now known to be the single factor that enables anyone to learn anything and that is…
Whenever we decide to learn something – to cook a new dish, learn to drive, put together a self- assembly unit (ie not forced, like sometimes happens at school), it is because the pleasure we derive from the experience at the end is worth the effort to learn the skill. The exact same applies to learning to read.
So our challenge in the Early Years is to work out how to get that motivation so that children can see that joy in reading.
As adult readers some of us use reading as a means to escape the real world – fiction which allows us to dream, go to unseen and unknown places, or non-fiction which teaches us numerous truths about the world and how we relate to it and them. Others use it to navigate their way through the world – reading bus timetables, the sell-by date on food packaging, the contents of products, how to create something, receipts and invoices, how much money we have or don’t have!) responding to texts and even, social media!
Some of us read on trains, on sun loungers, in cosy spaces in the home – in the bath, in bed, a special place in the garden, curled up on the sofa with a gorgeous array of tactile materials tickling our senses, all of which create an emotionally cosy memory that draws us to repeat the experience again and again. Some of us are hooked on books and carry them around everywhere we go, others listen to stories on headphones, but all of our lives are stories and its part of the human condition to enjoy them – for children, picture books are brilliant ways to explain language and offer new vocabulary – pictures actually sell things too – some children under one can ‘read’ the big yellow M and know that McDonalds is on the cards!!!
All of these things happen because we are motivated to do them.
So, the question, or is it more of a challenge, is how to get pre-school children to see the joys of books and reading so that they are motivated once they start school to want to learn to read. How in the busy day do we engender that LOVE of books and reading for all children so that they ALL start off with that set of skills and knowledge?
Back to parents and … technology?
The World Health Organization (WHO) May 2019, is recommending children under age 5 spend one hour or less on digital devices and those under age 1 spend no time at all on a daily basis.
There is an increase in the number of children starting school today without the skills that were acknowledged as being present in past generations – the changes have coincided with the omnipresent increase in technological advancement.
Interestingly, the WHO (2019) states that “developing the ability to "use" vision starts at birth…when a baby watches a parent form words or point to objects, their actions lead to development of a baby's "looking" process, which fosters their internal curiosity, he says. That curiosity leads to the baby wanting to get to an object out of reach and a desire to move toward it.
"When an infant sees a parent looking at an object and follows their gaze to that object by 12 months of age, they will be able to identify 335 words by 18 months of age….when they do not follow the parent's gaze, they will only be able to identify 197 words by 18 months of age. Andrew Meltzoff, Ph.D., at the University of Washington. Vision triggers curiosity, which triggers movement and exploration."
So, it’s all about motivation and curiosity……..and for me, one last thing – kindness.
Everything is about relationships, so developing an emotional attachment and showing kindness will support all children as they develop their understanding – most under-fives can be persuaded by an adult to whom they have an attachment to have a few moments of high quality positive one-to-one time…….. so its finding that time that becomes the challenge.