Tag Archives: early literacy

Storytelling with Shadow Puppets

I recently cleaned out the linen cupboard and gave the kids a huge bag of old sheets to play with. They like to make them into royal capes or build dens with them. In amongst them was a white sheet. I thought it could be used to build a shadow puppet theatre in the garden.  We have a swing set that isn’t safe to use, so I removed one of the swings and fastened the sheet to the frame.

outdoor shadow puppet theatre

The children and I made puppets from cardboard. The children chose characters and I helped them draw them in silhouette. They collected sticks from the garden, whittled them to smooth them out and stuck the cardboard characters on with tape.

home made shadow puppets

I also found images of hand shadows. I printed and laminated them and stuck them  on the swing set frame for reference.

hand shadows

We had to do a bit of work cutting back the tree branches to make a clear screen, but soon it was ready. The magical stories they have created have been wonderful.  I think this would be a great resource for a school or pre-school to encourage story telling and build the foundations of story writing. You could build it outdoors or inside with a light source behind.

Videoing the story showed the children where they needed to improve. They saw that sometimes you couldn’t see the characters well because they were too low or placed at an angle. They also noticed that the size of the puppet changed according to how close to the screen it was.

I love the way my daughter played with accents and voices.  It particularly love the voice of the bird and banana man in the land of the forgotten.

Shadows, like mud are a great, free play resource – check out some of our other shadow explorations or follow my shadow and light pinterest board

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The Elephant and the Bad Baby: Why DoToddlers Like Repetitive Books?


All 3 of my girls had the same favourite book at the age of 2. I didn’t encourage it, but somehow ‘The Elephant and the Bad Baby’ by Elfrida Vipoint hit the spot for all of them.
The story is highly repetitive, so much so that it drove my husband insane every time he read it. It is also quite long.
So why would it be so popular?

The repetitive text is most likely what they love the most.

Repetition is important for young children as it helps them to remember and learn. Knowing what comes next is comforting in a generally unpredictable world. Small children love repetition, it means that they can join in and demonstrate how much they know. As they hear the story language time and again, they come to anticipate words and phrases and will insert the vocabulary if the reader pauses at key points, as seen in the video clip.  They will even correct you if you get it wrong (as I did).   Children, as they become older, memorise repetitive books and can be seen to be ‘reading’  them to themselves, before they can actually read the text.  This is a very important starting point for learning to read.

Other repetitive books:

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen

The Very Busy Spider – Eric Carle

Peepo – Allan Ahlberg

Hairy Maclary – Lynley Dodd

Farmer Duck – Martin Waddell

A Squash and a Squeeze – Julia Donaldson

The Little Red Hen

Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell

Bark George – Jules Feiffer

Goals, Early Literacy and What is Really Important?

alphabetOne of the biggest parental concerns when children start school is how easily their child will learn to read.  This eagerness to give children the best start is driving academic instruction at an early age.  I recently heard of a school that had under 2’s learn flashcards, before they could move into the 2’s classroom. This anxiety about children reaching goals is often well-intentioned but it is a little like teaching a child to walk before they can stand.

Research suggests that there is a strong correlation between a child’s vocabulary and how easily they will learn to read.

Years of research has  told us that language is the foundation for literacy. Children arriving at school with lower levels of oral language proficiency, for whatever reason, are therefore at a distinct disadvantage for learning.

explain Professor Courtenay Norbury and Debbie Gooch in their article “Too much too soon? What should we be teaching 4-year-olds?” They recommend that the first year of school, is focused on developing these oral skills.

In Finland, children are only taught to read in kindergarten if they are able and interested. A far cry from the expectation that children will read in the US and UK systems. If the academic benefits aren’t convincing enough, then recent research from Stanford University suggests delaying kindergarten and prolonging play are also beneficial to a child’s mental health.

What about those children who already have the foundational skills for reading?  Would they be left behind if a play based curriculum without direct reading instruction was introduced? My belief is that most children who have developed an interest in reading and have the foundational skills, will read quickly and easily. Children who are ready to read, will have individual attention and not have to complete easy worksheets with the rest of the class,  in a school system that is released from the constraints of ensuring all children will learn to read in their first year. The teacher will be able to support those children to develop their literacy in a meaningful way.

If we want our children to be interested and skilled in literacy what are the most important factors? My article for Parentmap ‘What’s really important in early literacy?’ explores this further.

I sometimes wonder what parents aspirations are for their children.  If we constantly drive them towards academic goals and achievements, to extra credits, advanced classes and better colleges so that they can have careers that demand long working hours but good pay, what message are we giving children? That working hard, earning money and being successful are important at the expense of life experience, family life, fun and hobbies?  I wish it were easier to stop worrying about what our children will achieve and think more about what sort of people they will be.

Steady Beat Action Rhymes

My Children are big fans of Beat Baby and love to play rhyming games. Some of these activities and the way they help with early literacy development are documented in a previous post about Musical Games . Recently we were reading Ros Bayley’s Action Raps and then continued to make up some of our own.

After a few rhymes with me leading the way, my 4-year-old decided to have a try.

How to Encourage Your Child’s Early Literacy

Wahm-Bam is hosting a Book Week this week with all kinds of information relating to books and reading.  Check out my Guest post  ‘ Learning to Read – Get them talking First’. 

http://www.wahm-bam.org/2011/03/learning-to-read-get-them-talking-first/

I’ve also joined this months British Mummy Bloggers blogging carnival – check it out at

http://www.familyfriendlyworking.co.uk/2011/03/29/british-mummy-bloggers-blog-carnival/