Twinkle twinkle little stars

4th September 1998 at 01:00
A host of tiny video-stars twinkled into the room to tumultuous applause.It was the world premiere of Truro nursery school's Nursery Rhyme Video, and the stars were having a great time, dressed up to the nines, waving and smiling to the assembled mums, dads and other well-wishers.

They settled on the floor to watch themselves singing and acting out a range of nursery and counting rhymes. The Grand Old Duke of York marched his red-coated men up and down the nursery grounds; Jack and Jill hoiked a plastic bucket to the top of the slide, then tumbled down; a white-hatted baker presided over five currant buns which gradually disappeared from the classroom shop. Each item was introduced by a child, and voice-overs were provided by the whole class.

Parents smiled indulgently as they spotted their offspring, sometimes in a starring role, sometimes as an extra. Then, after every child had received a certificate to record their achievement, everyone retired to the premiere party, which doubled as an end-of-term cup of tea. It was a magnificent demonstration of how to achieve a serious educational purpose while having a thoroughly good time.

Carol Kimberley, the nursery's headteacher, had noticed that children today arrive in school without the old repertoire of nursery rhymes that previous generations learned at their mother's knee. In a television culture, parents no longer need such linguistic trifles to keep their children entertained. But teachers know children need lots of experience of rhyming, rhythmic, alliterative language to develop phonological awareness - the sensitivity to language sounds that underlies the ability to read.

For Carol, making the video served a number of purposes. It provided an exciting focus for a term's work, involving all sorts of language, number and social skills and, of course, lots of work with rhymes and patterned language. It built to a thrilling and enjoyable finale with the premiere, which brought parents pouring into the school. And, when enough copies have been made to fulfil the huge demand, it will send videos packed with those forgotten nursery rhymes back into the home, for children to share with parents, grandparents - and perhaps eventually younger siblings.

For the rest of us, it's a lesson in good teaching. Video is out there, dominating children's lives (very possibly undermining their ability to learn to read) and early years educators must adapt practice to compensate for it.

Truro nursery school's inspired solution is to fight fire with fire.

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