Fowl language

24th March 2006 at 00:00
Teacher Jill Arnold encouraged parents and children to converse by getting them interested in birds

Have you ever worried about how to get parents and children communicating? This was a battle facing me when teaching my early years class and realising that problems with children's communication were increasing.

As a result of an outstanding inspection, literacy expert Sue Palmer had contacted Llangunnor Primary School in Carmarthen, where I am the foundation stage teacher, on behalf of the Basic Skills Agency and asked me to contribute to their Talk to Me! pack. I was delighted that along with five schools from England we were the only school in Wales to have been asked. Then panic set in. How on earth could I involve parents in school to improve communication skills?

I believe children get enthusiastic and learn best through real life experiences and I needed to involve the parents in these to give them a focus for the talk.

I am keen to develop play outdoors and linked our school's theme on food and change to a bird project. The school encouraged child-parent discussions by: * involving them with caring for a baby duckling which had been brought in; * inviting them to observe incubated eggs together which hatched into 11 beautiful chicks which we cared for and watched grow for two weeks; * displaying photographs of the children in cross-curricular activities connected with the project for parents and children to discuss; * inviting parents and grandparents to a visit from the Welsh Birds of Prey Centre. The children enjoyed handling the birds and discussing the event; * involving four mums and a dad in a visit to Carmarthen library to find information books and listen to stories on birds; * inviting parents to help with making a hide and a giant nest in a tractor tyre with papier mache eggs, as well as a bird feedertable and bird bath.

We are also converting an old storage shed into a research den in which we have displayed posters and drawings of birds, investigated nests, made models of birds, role played bird spotters and used walkie talkies and microphones when interviewing each other about our findings.

I put up a poster, sent notes and cajoled parents into a meeting after school, to tell them about Talk to Me! and the bird project.

During the meeting, I used the Talk to Me! whiteboard presentation, which worked really well as an introduction to our bird project and as a starting point for discussions. All the parents were positive, offering help and support. I was really thrilled when one dad invited us to go and see the lambs being born at his farm. Although this was not connected with birds, it did inspire lots more conversation, involving his child and the other children. They can't wait!

I also wanted to explain about a leaflet I had designed to encourage shared thinking and which will be included in the Basic Skills Agency's Talk to Me! pack. The A4 leaflet, folded into three, showed a photograph of one child on the front and another photograph with the child in a small group situation, inside. Around the photographs are starting points for speaking and listening. On the reverse I put ideas for activities which could be developed at home to further their communication skills.

The Basic Skills Agency designer, Georgina Pensri, helped me put this in a format in which we could drop in photographs and text.

The children were shown their leaflets and they showed pride in handing them to their parents at the door and chattering about what they'd been doing. At the meeting I had asked the parents to provide me with feedback, which most parents were more than keen to do.

The consensus was that the leaflet was a great starting point for discussions, as quite often children don't want to share what they've been doing in school. Some had also followed up by involving their children in the suggested activities on the back of the leaflet. One mum said her son and husband had made bird cakes at home and they had hung them in their garden. They had also gone on to prepare food, which her son had not wanted to eat before but was now eating because he'd been involved in making it.

Another family were going on a "bird hunt" walk. Success at last! I'll definitely be using these leaflets again.

* The Talk to Me! pack will be launched at a Basic Skills Agency Conference in north London on March 27

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