Tag Archives: early years

The Privilege of Learning to Read

While doing some research recently, I came across some alarming headlines: ‘Reading Wars Raging’, ‘Low literacy affecting our economy’ and ‘The Social Costs of Inadequate Literacy’. Each one was an Australian article dated in 2019. The articles’ headlines were specifically designed to evoke a great deal of emotion and action.

As a mother of two boys aged nine and ten, I feel very fortunate that both of my children are ‘at standard’ for their age in literacy. Whilst they both had a few visits with a speech pathologist in their earlier years to improve pronunciation, neither were deterred from reading. Both boys came into the world surrounded by storybooks. From babies, my husband and I would snuggle down with them, read with much animation and search the pictures for clues—where is that Green Sheep hiding?

Certainly, in their first years of school, it was a priority to sit down and ‘do their reader’ and carefully mark it off in their take-home reading diary with a sentence explaining how wonderfully they had tackled the book. This was then validated by a sticker from their teacher. Even now, we have a ten-minute reading rule every day, although it needs some enforcing at times when competing with basketball, the Xbox, and Lego. Our chosen school has a terrific reading program, a great big library full of bright and interesting books, plus reasonable class sizes and passionate teachers.

Upon reflection, I can only sit here and think, ‘Wow! Our children have really been given the privilege of learning to read’. We have had the privilege of:

  • Accessing a speech pathologist during early learning to nip in the bud any pronunciation issues
  • Having the financial discretion to buy an abundance of books and the capacity to visit libraries and reading events
  • Having both parents at home most evenings who had the time and energy to invest in sitting and reading.
  • Having a peaceful home without tension, conflict or other priorities
  • Parents who were aware of strategies to reinforce positive reading experiences
  • Access to grandparents and extended family who attentively read and encouraged their endless chatter about a ‘Pug called Pig’ and the artistic flair of a kraken.
  • A school that prioritises reading and reading support programs similar to that of the Reading Buddies Program.

Through the LLEN’s work to support early learning, I am acutely aware that the privilege of learning to read is not dealt equally to all children, particularly in rural areas. In some areas, there is limited access to speech pathologists. Some rural areas also have high levels of disadvantage and a range of social complexities that directly impact on a child’s early language development.

When the privilege of reading is removed from children and they fail to reach adequate reading standards, there are consequences. Studies indicate that young people with low levels of literacy will:

  • Be more likely to drop out of school early
  • Be less likely to gain meaningful employment
  • Become more reliant of the public health system
  • Be more likely to engage in dangerous use of alcohol and other drugs
  • Be more likely to engage in risky behaviours
  • Be less likely to be involved in community activities
  • More likely be linked to youth justice and other social welfare programs.

Whilst, as individuals, we cannot solve the complex social issues that many children face, we can certainly take the ‘village’ approach and do what we can where we can. Improving access to books and reading seems like a great place to start. So here are my commitments:

  • I will clear out children’s books that have been outgrown and donate them to charity, or to the LLEN for the pop-up libraries.
  • I will continue to volunteer in schools and advocate for the Reading Buddies Program.
  • I will put a book or two under the wishing trees at Christmas time.

I would welcome your ideas and commitments towards tackling the inequity in learning to read and to see if we can rewrite the headlines for our community. In some instances, it really does take a village…

Positive Reading Experiences

I had a most delightful phone conversation recently with a reading buddy. Olivia was referred to the Reading Buddies Program via Centre for Participation and attended a morning tea and information/training session to find out what was involved in being a reading buddy. She chose the school in which she would like to volunteer and we visited for an orientation session and arranged a time when she could regularly visit to listen to children read.

After her first reading buddies’ session, Olivia phoned to tell me about her ‘first day on the job’. She was reading with children in a prep class and found the children to be absolutely delightful. One little reluctant reader announced that she didn’t like reading and didn’t want to read. Olivia was able to call upon some of the ‘tips for reading with children’ that were covered in the Reading Buddies training session.

She began to engage the student by looking at and talking about the pictures in the book. This progressed to finding words or letters on the pages that the student could recognise and ended up with the student, somewhat hesitantly, reading her reader with her new reading buddy. At the end of the session, the reluctant little reader left with a smile and Olivia left with a great sense of satisfaction and delight and very much looking forward to the next session together.

I suspect that one of the reasons why some children struggle with reading or don’t like reading is because they have not experienced the delight of that special one-on-one time with an adult where they engage in the wonderful world of stories.  Reading to young children is not simply an exercise in hearing and understanding words, it can be a deeply caring and bonding experience between the adult and the child. With such a positive experience generated around a book, reading becomes a delightful experience and hopefully instils a love of reading in the child.

Many children miss out on this special reading time with an adult.  This is one of the reasons why we have a Reading Buddies Program in schools. It gives those reluctant little readers a positive experience with an adult where books are no longer a threat but a source of enjoyment.

We have never yet had too many Reading Buddies in our local schools. If you or anyone you know would like to share your love of reading with a child in a local primary school, please contact us. We are looking for more reading buddies for the beginning of the 2020 school year, so now is the time to start thinking about whether you could spare an hour a week to make a difference in a young person’s life.

Please contact us at The WSMLLEN Office:
info@llen.com.au  Phone 03 5381 0122
Or you can register your expression of interest online at: https://www.llen.com.au/reading-buddies/

The Ice-cream Shop

A recent conversation and pretend-play session with my three-year-old granddaughter centred around an ice-cream shop. Annie is a little chatterbox and loves ‘pretend play’.  She will spend hours occupying herself creating conversations between her toys and loves to engage any willing members of the family in her imaginative world.

“Would you like to come to my ice-cream shop, Grandma?” I didn’t need a second invitation to spend some quality time with this special little person. I was offered a range of ice-cream flavours. The conversation went like this: “You could have mango, strawberry, blueberry, chocolate, vanilla, pineapple, or plumb.”
I asked, “Do you have ginger ice-cream? Ginger ice-cream is my favourite.”
“Well, no Grandma, I don’t have ginger ice-cream but I could ask my cook to make some.”

While the cook was making the ginger ice-cream, Annie announced that she would sing to me so, with a little toy accordion, she squeezed out a tune and made up a song about Grandma coming to her ice-cream shop. At the conclusion of the performance and after a round of applause from a delighted grandma, she announced, “I’ll go and see if the cook has finished making your ice-cream now, Grandma.” She promptly returned with my special order of ginger ice-cream. I licked my ice-cream with great approval. “This is the most delicious ice-cream I have ever tasted. How do you make such beautiful ice-cream?”

To my surprise, this three-year-old replied, “The ingredients are sugar, eggs, cream, vanilla and ginger and I mix them. I don’t cook them, I just mix them.” I was impressed on three counts, firstly that she knew the word ‘ingredients’, secondly that she could list a range of ingredients that were entirely appropriate to make ice-cream and thirdly that she knew that ice-cream didn’t need to be cooked. Our conversation continued, “Do you think your cook could make me another ginger ice-cream?”

“Well no, Grandma, he can’t.” “Why not,” I asked.  ‘Well he died,” was the totally unexpected reply. “Oh dear,” I said. “That is terrible. Why did he die?” “Well Grandma, he just didn’t eat healthy food.”

The pretend play continued for over an hour with many servings of ice-cream, bad batches of ice-cream that had to be thrown out, a visit to the ice-cream shop by Grandpa and endless chatter.

I was enthralled by this pretend play experience and amazed by the imagination, creativity, knowledge and language skills of a three-year-old to be able to engage in such a detailed conversation. By the age of three, this little one has mastered complex sentence construction and can correctly use nouns (singular and plural), pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs in various tenses, along with clauses joined by conjunctions in a sequence.

Not only is all of this grammar in place, but there is also an understanding of the importance of eating healthy food and ingredients to make ice-cream! I wonder what else is being stored in that little mind.

In visiting schools in our local region, we have heard that some schools are introducing ‘pretend play’ into the prep classrooms because, increasingly, children are coming to school with limited experience of pretend play. I wonder if its absence is having an adverse effect on our children. Pretend play is a vital part of language development for young children.  In our increasingly fast-paced society and with the proliferation of electronic devices, perhaps we are not finding as much time to spend on the simple things like talking, reading and pretending with our children.

…and I am becoming increasingly aware of the valuable contribution grandparents can make in the lives of young children. While parents are extremely busy with careers and the ever-increasing need to work more, the one thing that many grandparents have, especially those who have retired, is time. I am convinced that the best inheritance I can leave to my children, is to invest time in my grandchildren.

Spaghetti, Spaghetti, Spaghetti!

My son was preparing lunch for my grandchildren, while their mother was away for the day. He was catering for an 18-month old, a three-year old and four-year old.  He announced, “What do you want for lunch today?” and then proceeded to list the options which included some left-overs from the day before and some quick-and-easy options. The list was something like, “There is chicken and corn soup, some salad and ham, or you could have a wrap or a peanut butter sandwich or spaghetti on toast and there are bananas, apples and mandarins in the fruit bowl.”

I was satisfied that, in the absence of their health-conscious mother, this was a reasonable menu that provided some healthy eating options from a range of food groups.

The three-year-old and four-year-old were well able to articulate what they wanted and what they didn’t want. The three-year-old clearly stated, “I don’t like chicken and corn soup. I want ham and salad in a wrap,” while the four-year-old chorused, “Spahgetti, Spaghetti, Spaghetti! I want Spaghetti on toast!”

The 18-month old, whose vocabulary consisted of only a few words such as ‘Mum’, ‘Dad’ and ‘no’, was unable to verbalise his menu preference. He had only been walking for about four months, but suddenly and silently disappeared at lightning speed through the kitchen and into the pantry. He emerged within a few seconds carrying a can of spaghetti, making it quite clear what he wanted for lunch. Although he was unable to speak, he had a clear grasp of the conversation and knew exactly what was being discussed – spaghetti was on the menu for lunch and that was what he wanted. He was also well aware that the spaghetti came in cans and where it was stored in the pantry.

This simple little action of a toddler running into the pantry and coming out with a can of spaghetti, demonstrated clearly what Let’s Read program advocates.  Reading (and speaking) to your children from birth is vital for the development of their language. Long before children can speak, they are listening, learning words and developing their vocabulary.  It stands to reason, that the more words they hear, the more words they will learn and understand. There are numerous ways to increase the number of words our babies and toddlers hear. This can be done by constantly talking and describing what you are doing during the day, making a running commentary of the mundane activities of the day, singing songs to your children and reading stories. Exposure to language in the early years is a great investment in a child’s education and increases their readiness for school.

My 18-month old grandson was given his menu preference for lunch that day, and unsurprisingly, because he was able to choose what he wanted, devoured a generous helping of spaghetti while I sat back and contemplated the wonderful capacity of the human brain and the importance of generous helpings of exposure to language to build healthy young minds.

Literacy Boost

Prize money received by Wimmera Southern Mallee LLEN will go towards two literacy programs delivered across the Wimmera.  The LLEN was awarded the Community Group of the Year in the 2018 Regional Achievement and Community Awards.  This state-wide award came with $2000 prizemoney sponsored by the Bank of Melbourne.

The prize money will be targeted to buy more books and resources for the Let’s Read program and the Read to Me program. The Horsham branch of the Bank of Melbourne is also donating a series of children’s books for use in these valuable programs.  This support from the Bank of Melbourne will support the development and education of our region’s children.

Let’s Read is delivered by a partnership in each of the Hindmarsh, Horsham, West Wimmera and Yarriambiack shires.  The program delivers support, books, read-aloud DVDs and resources to families at four different age points.  Families receive the resources and support for their babies at 4 months, 12 months, 18 months and 3½ years from Maternal and Child Health Nurses during the child’s health check.

Let’s Read was developed by the Centre for Community Child Health at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and The Smith Family have partnered with Wimmera Southern Mallee LLEN and local partners to deliver the program across the Wimmera.

The money will also be used to establish the Read to Me program across the Wimmera.  Read to Me was developed by Raising Literacy Australia and is currently delivered across South Australia.  Read to Me will provide children in out-of-home care with their own start-up library of 10 picture and board books. Children then receive an additional 3 books every 3 months to add to their collection up until they reach 6 years of age.

Investing in the early years has a profound impact on a child’s future and, through the Read to Me project, Raising Literacy Australia and Wimmera Southern Mallee LLEN strive to use the power of stories and reading to help children in out-of-home care to reach their full potential.

Let’s Read and Read to Me are early years literacy programs aimed at promoting the importance of reading with young children from birth. Sharing stories, rhymes and songs daily to your children, from birth, establishes a strong language and literacy foundation which ensures that children are ready to learn when they start school.  Research has shown that reading regularly to your children increases their IQ.

We are fortunate to receive such strong support from our business community and local community organisations.  Kids who read succeed and the delivery of these important programs only occurs through the generous support we receive from our partners.