Supporting literacy

Supporting literacy
By Máire Corbett
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The love of books
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I have always loved books and reading. I remember as a child reading everything I could get my hands on. When I got a new book, I would make a pact with myself that I would not rush this one, I’d read just a chapter a day and make the enjoyment last longer. I could never do it! One chapter led to another and next thing, the book was finished, and I was looking for a new world to escape into and explore. While I now read on an e-reader, I still love reading and always have a book on the go.

The importance of books and storytelling
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In this age of internet and IT resources, it is important, I think, that we remember that ‘old-fashioned’ books and storytelling are probably still the best way to support early literacy with children. Children’s early literacy learning starts way before they say their first words. Babies hear language and sounds in the womb so by the time a baby is born it is already familiar with the language spoken in their family, as well as music, environmental sounds and the voices of the people closest to the baby.

And all those words we speak to babies about how we feel about them, what’s happening in their environment, describing feeding, nappy changing and sleep routines, these all are forming their vocabulary, which is building solid foundations for literacy.

Along with these chats and conversations, sharing stories and books are important ways to support the language development of very young children. Telling a story or chatting about a picture book helps grow a close relationship as we share words, concepts and a love of stories, books and reading. This can’t start too early.

Even with a tiny baby, gently chanting a nursery rhyme, looking at pictures and naming objects or reading a simple story provides a nurturing experience that helps the baby feel safe and secure.

As babies get older, at the stage they start to attend our settings, having a cosy corner with some picture books, is a beautiful way to settle a baby or have a snuggle when a baby is tired. This can be enhanced by having a means of playing music and lullabies in children’s home languages.

Revolutionising education through play
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I recently attended the Revolutionising Education through Play Conference at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick and Dr Paul Ramchandani, LEGO Professor of Play in Education, Development and Learning, and the Director of the PEDAL Centre at the University of Cambridge was a keynote speaker. He spoke about the Playtime with Books project with which he and his team at the Play Education Development and Learning Centre are involved. He discussed following the baby’s lead when sharing book time. If the baby wants to look at pictures, that’s fine, but equally if the baby wants to turn the pages, hold the book upside down, flip the pages… then that’s fine too. The main thing is the shared time, the closeness and the language development that comes from these shared experiences.

OWLET: Lullabies of the World
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As we in Early Childhood Ireland recently launched OWLET those of our members who have children under two years in their settings will have seen the lovely book that accompanies the lullabies. Picture books like this give lots of opportunities for language development. Naming the objects on the pages, making up stories about the various characters, wondering what’s happening and what might happen next all give children and adults a chance to imagine, to discuss and to speculate. Even if the language in the book is not one we are fluent in or familiar with we can still talk about the pictures. This can become a ritual with the same story told every time or it could be an entirely different story with each telling. And as the OWLET materials show, these enable us to show respect and value for the customs, language and traditions of each family.

A quote I love from Carl Sagan is “One of the greatest gifts adults can give—to their offspring and to their society—is to read to children” so, get the picture books and story books and read, chat and discover all those worlds that are waiting.

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