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OWLing success in bid to boost nursery language skills

Three-year-olds in disadvantaged communities can make significant gains if their parents are closely involved in language development at home, a pilot project in Greenock has shown.

Two groups of nursery children were screened by psychologists and speech therapists and the parents of a pilot group were given additional support in developing language skills.

Children were tested in January and again in August after a 16-week intervention programme. The average improvement in the 20-strong pilot group was 24 months for comprehension and 20 months for expression. In the group without extra support, improvement in comprehension averaged 15 months but gains in expression only matched the normal maturity rate of nine months.

Nursery staff worked with parents in the evening on a structured programme of language development. Parents were given advice about simple strategies to use when talking to children, such as the 3As (allow, adapt, add) and OWLing (observe, wait, listen). They were also given hints about talking to children when they were playing, reading or around the house.

Parents were filmed talking to their children at four points during the programme and progress was discussed with each of them. The education committee praised the commitment and hard work of the parents.

Inverclyde wants to extend the scheme to other nurseries and may make a bid for funding.

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