PRE-SCHOOL youngsters struggling to learn how to read and write have been given a literacy boost – with the help of old-fashioned nursery rhymes.
Education specialists have been drafted in to dozens of city nurseries in a game-changing move to target literacy skills by placing children in groups where play takes a back seat to traditional rhymes, shopping lists and the basics of how texts are put together.
Intervention work at 39 nurseries is paying off, with studies showing up to half of children in pilot groups based in areas with poor primary school literacy scores are better able to recognise letters and produce sounds associated with them.
Now the programme – which specifically targets three and four year old children in the early stages of language development – is set to spread across Edinburgh as education chiefs step up their efforts to ensure every child gets the best start in life.
Martin Gemmell, the Capital’s principal education psychologist, said: “A nursery rhyme – sounding out the individual letters and sounds – is one of the building blocks of learning to read and write.
“They’ve been there for centuries. This is about not forgetting the past in the modern era with iPads and so on.”
Mr Gemmell said the new approach involved working in a focused way with nursery children aged three or four who experience difficulty in the very early stages of language learning.
Specialists who lead the groups also use material and suggestions provided by the city council’s new Up, Up and Away learning manual, which aims to support communication and literacy development from birth to the age of five.
“The groups focus on the skills for reading and writing rather than the children going out on their trikes or something like that,” he said.
“But this is also fun, active learning. It could be a pretend shopping session in a pretend shop, with lists of names, which they’re working with.
“The help of parents is vital. The support we’re putting in now is to help parents help their own children – don’t forget about bedtime stories and pointing out language to your children whenever you see it in the environment.”
The approach and its early success have been hailed by education bosses. Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “It’s important to identify young children who may need help before they start their primary school education.
“The project has already produced some very encouraging results.”
‘If you start at a young age you can improve massively’
FATHER-of-five Albagir Mohammed, 45, said the new literacy groups would help his three-year-old son, Mohaned, who attends Gracemount nursery.
He said Mohaned would grow up in a bilingual environment, where Arabic is spoken as often as English, and that focused help with literacy at nursery would underpin his son’s progress at primary school.
His family came to the Capital from Sudan ten years ago and currently stay in Burdiehouse.
“The groups will make him better at English and he’ll be able to understand at a young age and won’t have to take extra classes later on,” he said. “They will help him build his language and communicate more. Reading and writing are so important. If can’t read or write, you won’t get that far and if you start at a young age then you can improve massively.”