How do preschool services support children to develop language and literacy skills and help them get ready for school? As Research Developments [rd] reports, a recent study has explored this question, and helps describe the benefits gained by children who have access to high quality early childhood services.
The Overcoming Disadvantage in Early Childhood (ODEC) study worked with 442 children from more than 40 schools and 22 early childhood centres across the mid-north coast of New South Wales to assess the impact of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation's (ALNF) Early Language and Literacy Program.
‘More than 30 per cent of four-year-old children on the NSW mid-north Coast are missing out on the 15 hours offered under the Universal Access to preschool policy,' ACER Research Fellow Dan Cloney and Kellie Picker, a researcher for ACER, write in [rd]. ‘The ALNF's Early Language and Literacy Program has been delivered in schools and ECEC [Early Childhood Education and Care] services in this area for more than 10 years.'
The ALNF's Early Language and Literacy Program is a program which aims to equip educators, parents and community members with the knowledge and tools required to develop children's foundational language and literacy skills. To assess the impact, children's growth in oral language and literacy skills was measured over two years, particularly in terms of their vocabulary skills, comprehension, oral language, print conventions, reading, writing and phonological awareness.
Phonological awareness skills
‘Research shows that phonological awareness skills, in particular phonemic awareness, are important foundational skills for later literacy development,' Cloney and Picker write.
Through their research, and assessment of student phonological awareness skills, Cloney and Picker say the aim is for children to have fun while playing with and thinking about the words and sounds they're using in everyday life.
They developed a summary of the activities that can be completed with children to see if they can demonstrate various phonological awareness skills.
Figure 1: Activity ideas to demonstrate phonological awareness skills.
The activities in Figure 1 take Outcome 5 of the Early Years Learning Framework, Quality Area 1 of the National Quality Standard and the English strand of the Australian Curriculum into consideration. Therefore, the co-authors write, there are similarities between the activities and the activities used in early childhood programs.
‘Ensuring that the skills described above are embedded within other literacy activities, such as nursery rhymes, poems, finger plays, stories, songs, and themes, is an important step to ensure all children get access to high quality early childhood experiences,' the co-authors say.