IoE academics and Reading Borough Council in innovative drive to improve language in early years children

Reading researchers and educators have been shining a light recently on improving the language of their early years children through engagement with parents, the environment and professional development. In July, Reading Borough Council and the University of Reading celebrated a year-long project in which schools and settings have been closely involved with the breakthrough work.

Dr Helen Bilton

Organisers are now working to further inspire a group of professionals that is already remarkable for its dedication. A HELLO2YOU website has been set up to continue to support those nurseries which took part in the project as well providing a valuable guide on how to run a similar project for other settings across the world. 

Reading Borough Council’s school improvement officers and the University of Reading will continue to develop their work together. The IoE’s Professors Rhona Stainthorp and Helen Bilton will bring their wealth of dedication, research and experience to continuing the good work. 

Early years professionals are typically very passionate about improving the outcomes for their children through language and literacy, which can come through many means, particularly through closer engagement with parents. The Project and its celebration offered these practitioners, who come from  early years setting and schools, the chance to mingle and discuss experiences and methods with peers, as well as hearing from the leading academics in their field. 

This project was based on the successful National Literacy Trust’s HELLO scheme which, with funding from the Department for Education, worked with early years experts to improve the communication, language and literacy outcomes of children from birth to age three across multiple settings in 2016.  

Professor Helen Bilton of the IoE said:

I am delighted to be involved with this happy and laudable project. We can celebrate the great achievements in our field, and more specifically the remarkable progress we have seen on this year-long journey. It is always wonderful to chat to teachers and providers because it is their dedication and enthusiasm that drives us all forward. The people who devote themselves to our field are second to none.” 

The projects during the year long drive focused on children who would benefit from further support with their speech and language development at a range of different nurseries.

Professor Helen Bilton was asked to participate in the project by visiting each setting to offer advice, attend events and help with the publication of the outcomes of the project.

Activities included filming parents and nursery staff to help develop their story telling abilities, Mark Making training where children experiment with scribbles and patterns to help develop early writing skills and workshops for parents highlighting the importance of vocabulary.

Ita McGullion, of Kennet Day Nursery, at the Civic Offices, said:

“The main thing that I have taken away from this project is the value of parental engagement through home/nursery liaison, in particular with families who we may have previously found harder to reach.”

Parents also gave positive feedback.

One mother said: “I expected to see my son’s world, but the experience was much richer as I got to see the world from my son’s perspective. I enjoyed the role play; the story telling aspect. I found that very useful in terms of getting new ideas on how to enhance story time.”

Another said: “I now understand the importance of mark making, vocabulary and story-telling and what we can focus on as a parent.”

Councillor Tony Jones, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Education, said:

“It has been a great benefit for nurseries and parents to take part in this follow up project to the successful HELLO programme with the National Literacy Trust.

“From the comments I’ve heard from parents and staff who participated in the project, it is clear it has made a real impact.

“Good language and communication skills are essential for children as they start their school life and I hope what has been learned from HELLO2 can be shared more widely with parents across the borough.”