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The serious business of having fun with words

This post is by Mary Hartshorne, Director of Outcomes and Information, I CAN – the Children’s Communication Charity 

Regan, five, at home with his dad, Damien (photo: Elizabeth Dalziel/Save the Children)

This week the Read On. Get On coalition is kicking off a campaign to help parents to get their little ones ready to read.

We’re giving parents tips and information on how to develop language even in the earliest days, answering questions, and providing activities – so that families can be inspired to make anytime storytime.

It’s about helping our youngest children develop the skills they need to read well, which means they’re much more likely to do better in life.

Serious fun

Though we’ve had a lot of fun – and made new friends like Peppa Pig – it’s a serious business. Because we know that without the skills of speech language and communication, children will fall behind and won’t catch up.

Many children are starting school with delayed language development – particularly in disadvantaged areas.

This means they’re not ready to start formal schooling. If you don’t have the ability to talk, listen and understand, you’re going to find school hard.

Language underpins all other areas of learning.

Word power

The Read On. Get On campaign provides us with new evidence of the link between early language and reading, and a new analysis finds that a child’s vocabulary ability at age five is strongly associated with their reading ability at age seven.

In particular, it shows that children who experienced poverty persistently throughout the early years were much less likely to do as well in reading as other children at age seven.

It means that some children are starting school just able to say a few single words, unable to talk in sentences. They can find it difficult to sit still and listen for longer than a couple of seconds – and can only understand one instruction at a time. So they find school a confusing place.

Look who’s talking

Put bluntly: you can’t learn to read without good language skills.

Talking comes before reading. It’s not a ‘nice to have’ – it’s a ‘must have’.

There’s mounds of research that makes a clear link between language and literacy. You need to be able to say and listen to speech sounds in order to work out what words mean. You need to have a good vocabulary to be able to understand what you read. You need to be able understand our social communication rules to be able to work out what’s going on in a story.

And that’s just the beginning.

That’s why we’re committed to helping all children to have the best start by supporting their readiness to read and readiness to learn. Because we want their futures to be bright – just what they deserve.


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