Developing Language and Literacy with Young Children


Marian R. Whitehead

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  • Series listing

    Marian Whitehead: Developing Language and Literacy with Young Children 3rd edition 2007

    Rosemary Roberts: Self-esteem and Early Learning 3rd edition 2006

    Cath Arnold: Child Development and Learning 2–5 – Georgia's Story 1999

    Pat Gura: Resources for Early Learning 1997

    Chris Pascal and Tony Bertram: Effective Early Learning – case studies in improvement 1997

    Mollie Davies: Movement and Dance in Early Childhood 2nd edition 2003

    All titles are available from Paul Chapman Publishing


    The 0–8 Series

    The 0–8 Series, edited by Professor Tina Bruce, deals with essential themes in early childhood which concern practitioners, parents and children. In a practical and accessible way, the Series sets out a holistic approach to work with young children, families and their communities. It is evidence based, drawing on theory and research. The books are designed for use by early years practitioners, and those on professional development courses, and initial teacher education courses covering the age-range 0–8.


    View Copyright Page


    Marian Whitehead is a distinguished and highly respected scholar in her field. She has a wealth of practical experience and her love of children, and continued work with them shines through her writing. She has always maintained her contact with children and their families.

    Her understanding is informed by theory and research evidence and by her years of experience as a practitioner. In this book, she shares with readers how babies, toddlers and young children communicate, develop language and explore reading and writing, in ways which support and inspire practitioners and parents and give practical guidance. She respects and encourages the voice of the child as an active learner, sharing her expertise and giving practical advice on how to develop this.

    This updated edition, which is set against a background context of the Rose Review and the developing ‘Early Years Foundation Stage’, emphasises the importance of communication, language and rich multi-sensory learning environments. She has included the latest research evidence, which reaffirms and supports time-honoured approaches to working with children, in encouraging the development of language, writing and reading. She embraces the value of play, relationships, bilingualism and multilingualism, and shows how practitioners can provide a language and literacy environment which is rich for every child, family and community.

    TinaBruce, series editor February 2007


    This book is dedicated to my family – especially my grandchildren, Natalie, Daniel, Dylan and Mattias


    My thanks to all the students, teachers, schools, families and children who have generously shared their photographs and materials with me, especially the children, staff and families of Earlham Early Years Centre, Norwich, for some of the photographs and observations in this new edition and for their unfailing help and kindness. Thanks also to the nursery and reception teachers at Myatt Garden Primary School, Lewisham, who originally allowed me to quote from their observations; to Allyson Pascoe for Figure 8; Ellen Sizer and Louise for the ‘lecture notes’; Davina Grant for the nursery messages; and Gill Wilson and Athelney Primary School, Catford, for Martha the pig.

    Special thanks to my daughters and grandchildren for photographs and materials and for showing me language and literacy development in action!

    Preface for the 0–8 Series

    The 0–8 Series has stood the test of time, maintaining a central place among early childhood texts. Practitioners have appreciated the books because, while very practical, the series presents a holistic approach to work with young children, which values close partnership with families and their communities. It is evidence based, drawing on theory and research in an accessible way.

    The 0–8 Series continues to deal with the themes of early childhood which have always been of concern and interest to parents, practitioners and the children themselves. Each author has made an important contribution in their field of expertise, using this within a sound background of child development and practical experience with children, families, communities, schools and other early childhood settings. The Series consistently gives a central place to the interests and needs of children, emphasising the relationship between child development and the socio-cultural learning with which biological and brain development is inextricably linked.

    The basic processes of communication, movement, play, self-esteem and understanding of self and others, as well as the symbolic layerings in development (leading to dances, reading, writing, mathematical and musical notations, drawing, model-making) never cease to fascinate those who love and spend time with children. Some of the books in this series focus on these processes of development and learning, by looking at children and their contexts in a general way, giving examples as they go. Other books take a look at particular aspects of individual children and the community. Some emphasise the importance of rich physical and cultural provision and careful consideration of the environment indoors and outdoors and the way that adults work with children.

    I look forward to seeing the impact of the 0–8 Series on the next decade.

    Professor TinaBruce Roehampton University June 2006


    This book is about the most exciting and important aspect of human development – communication and language in the early years. It is a book for parents, carers, teachers and other workers, because they work and play with very young children and share in the emergence of their language. I hope it will support early years carers and practitioners by giving them a confident understanding of children's language development in the years from birth to eight.

    This is undoubtedly rather challenging, but no more so than the daily demands of caring for and educating young children in a variety of settings. The approach I have taken tries to avoid too many artificial divisions and watertight categories such as those which set apart academic language studies from guidelines for practice, or from our daily talking, thinking and coping. Or those which carefully parcel out children's activities as pre-school or school, reading or writing, or ‘only scribbling’ and ‘only talking’. My approach is not watertight – it is very leaky (this is known as ‘holistic’ in academic jargon) and attempts to work with the rich mixture of thinking, feeling, imagining, talking, listening, drawing, writing and reading which is typical of all our language activities. In order to do this I shall draw on the knowledge and wealth of child observations to be found in many academic studies. I shall also draw on my own experiences of watching and listening to very young children, while being a teacher, a mother, a granny, a researcher and an eavesdropper in the supermarket check-out queue.

    This holistic approach is responsible for the range of topics covered in the book. It begins with an account of how communication and language first develop and then moves on to explore the achievements and challenges of young bilinguals. The discussion of the significance of stories, narrative and playing with language builds a kind of bridge from understanding spoken language to the topic of literacy. Literacy is tackled in two chapters, one with an emphasis on the Early Years Foundation Stage (birth to five in England), which includes the move to statutory schooling at five years, and one with a focus on the years from six to eight. This division should help to keep the discussion of such a complex topic manageable, while emphasising the need to ensure continuity of good language learning for children from birth to eight. I hope that our struggles and successes will speak to practitioners, children and families in many parts of the world. The book ends with some suggestions for making the all-important partnership with parents a focus for talking about children's language development.

    Language, the Early Years and National Initiatives

    In 1988 the National Curriculum for England and Wales introduced legally binding requirements setting down the precise curriculum content to be taught in the first Key Stage to children from the age of five to seven. In reality many four-year-olds were in reception classes and experienced the National Curriculum and the inevitable pressures caused by the tests which marked the end of each Key Stage. The introduction of the Foundation Stage in 2000 gave early years practitioners detailed guidance on providing a developmentally appropriate curriculum for children from three to five and included early learning goals for communication, language and literacy (QCA/DfEE, 2000). The new emphasis on communication skills, along with the official valuing of play and active learning, the role of parents and the outdoor curriculum, was welcomed. However, tensions still remained, notably the downward pressure from the National Literacy Strategy (DfEE, 1998) with its inappropriate focus on a daily ‘Literacy Hour’ of formal, didactic literacy instruction. This imposed didactic trend continues with the current return to mandatory synthetic phonics in early reading instruction. But the narrowly didactic trend exists alongside enlightened views on the rights of every young child to be safe, nurtured, educated and successful (DfES, 2004) and planning for appropriate and seamless care and education provision from birth to five (DfES, 2006; DfES/Sure Start Unit, 2002). Good things continue to happen, despite some setbacks, and the latest project on communication and oral language in the early years (Hall and Lancaster, 2006) offers one major principle to hold on to: effective practice requires that we all have a deep understanding of how our own behaviour, communication and language affect children's language development. This book makes a small contribution to such professional understanding.

    The situation in Scotland and in Wales is far less tightly structured than in England because the Guidelines offered to educators in both countries are exactly as their name suggests – guidelines for professionals to adapt and interpret. The continuing upheavals and restructuring of schooling in Britain have their own political and administrative logic, but this has little to do with the patterns of child development and home cultures. This is particularly true of the development of communication and language which is studied from the moment of birth as a continuous process, and is arguably at its most exciting in the first three to four years of life. Serious students of language find all forms and varieties of language exciting and informative and few are comfortable with the notion that ‘English’, as opposed to ‘language’, is at the centre of the curriculum. This book will be exploring all these important issues, but the emphasis will be on children's holistic communication and language development, rather than on the peculiarities of the evolving National Curriculum in England.

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    Trevarthen, C. (1993) ‘Playing into reality: conversations with the infant communicator’. Winnicott Studies, 7, pp. 67–84.
    Trevarthen, C. (2002) ‘Learning in companionship’, Education in the North: The Journal of Scottish Education, 10, pp. 16–25.
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    Wade, B. and Moore, M. (2000) ‘A sure start with books’. Early Years, 20 (2), pp. 39–46.
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    Williams, S. (2001) ‘A bridge too far? How Biff, Chip, Kipper and Floppy fail the apprentice reader’. English in Education, 35 (2), pp. 12–24.
    Wilson, A. and Hughes, S. (eds) (1998) The Poetry Book for Primary Schools. London: The Poetry Society.
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    Literature Referred to in the Text (Excluding Books Listed in Chapter 3)
    Ahlberg, Janet and Ahlberg, Allan (1986) The Jolly Postman. London: Heinemann.
    Ahlberg, Janet and Ahlberg, Allan (1989) Bye Bye, Baby. London: Heinemann.
    Armitage, Ronda and David (1977) The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch. London: Andre Deutsch.
    Awdry, W. (1997) Meet Thomas and His Friends. London: Reed International.
    Barber, A. and Bayley, N. (1990) The Mousehole Cat. London: Walker.
    Barrie, J.M. (1988) Peter Pan and Wendy (illus. MichaelForeman). London: Pavilion Books.
    Burnett, Frances Hodgson (1905) A Little Princess. London: Warne.
    Burnett, Frances Hodgson (1988) The Secret Garden (illus. ShirleyHughes). London: Gollancz.
    Burningham, John (1980) The Shopping Basket. London: Jonathan Cape.
    Burningham, John (1989) Oi! Get Off Our Train. London: Jonathan Cape.
    Carroll, Lewis (1988) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (illus. AnthonyBrowne). London: Julia MacRae.
    Cooper, H. (1993) The Bear Under the Stairs. London: Doubleday.
    Foreman, Michael (1995) After the War Was Over. London: Pavilion Books.
    Furchgott, Terry and Dawson, Linda (1977) Phoebe and the Hot Water Bottles. London: Andre Deutsch.
    Grahame, Kenneth (1989) The Wind in the Willows (illus. JustinTodd). London: Gollancz.
    Hill, Eric (1980) Where's Spot?London: Heinemann.
    Hughes, T. (1968) The Iron Man. London: Faber.
    Keller, Holly (1984) Geraldine's Blanket. London: Julia MacRae.
    Kent, Jack (1972) The Fat Cat. London: Hamish Hamilton.
    McKee, D. (1980) Not Now, Bernard. London: Andersen/Arrow.
    McKissick, P.C. and Isadora, R. (1986) Flossie and the Fox. London: Kestrel/Puffin.
    Moore, I. (1990) Six Dinner Sid. London: Simon and Schuster Young Books.
    Morpurgo, Michael (2005) The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips. London: Harper Collins.
    Nicoll, Helen and Pienkowski, Jan (1972) Meg and Mog. London: Heinemann.
    Rosen, M. and Oxenbury, H. (1989) We're Going on a Bear Hunt. London: Walker.
    Ross, T. (1976) Goldilocks and the Three Bears. London: Andersen/Sparrow.
    Sendak, Maurice (1967) Where the Wild Things Are. London: Bodley Head.
    Sewell, Anna (1988) Black Beauty (illus. CharlesKeeping). London: Gollancz.
    Sheldon, Dyan and Blythe, Gary (1990) The Whales' Song. London: Hutchinson.
    Simmons, Jane (1998) Come On, Daisy!Orchard Books.
    Vipond, E. and Briggs, R. (1969) The Elephant and the Bad Baby. London: Hamish Hamilton/Puffin.
    Waddell, M. and Firth, B. (1988) Can't You Sleep, Little Bear?London: Walker.
    Wells, R. (1973) Noisy Nora. London: Collins/Picture Lions.
    Willis, J. (1988) Dr Xargle's Book of Earthlets. London: Andersen/Red Fox.
    Willis, J. (1993) Dr Xargle's Book of Earth Relations. London: Andersen/Red Fox.
    Zolotow, Charlotte and Sendak, Maurice (1968) Mr Rabbit and the Lovely Present. London: Bodley Head.
    Useful Websites – the Basic Skills Agency – Books for Keeps – the Book Trust – Book Trust's information and advice on reading difficulties – the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education – the Children's Laureate – Every Child Matters – the National Children's Bureau – the early language campaign of the National Literacy Trust.

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