Winning approaches

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Olivia O'Sullivan explores books to inspire and promote successful teaching in the early years

The Early Years Handbook: support for practitioners in the foundation stage

Edited by Max de Boo

The Curriculum Partnership pound;14.99

Foundations of Literacy

By Sue Palmer and Ros Bayley

Network Educational Press


The Early Years Handbook is an inspiring and instructive book, jointly produced by early years experts from five subject associations - science, design and technology, geography, maths and English. It's the kind of book which makes you want to rush off to teach in the early years because of the respect it accords to young children's learning and because of the way the threads of good early years practice are brought together.

Its rationale is contained in the introduction by Max de Boo, which begins by discussing whether there is a dichotomy between holistic approaches and those seen as subject-focused. The resolution lies, she argues, in a thoughtful interpretation of the foundation stage curriculum which acknowledges the "more eclectic, holistic" way that young children learn, while recognising the need to guide that learning.

The introduction sets out key daily routines, such as sand and water, outdoor play, role play, construction, exploration, writing provision, table-top play, small play and others.

She discusses a number of themes, such as productive questioning and adult support, and offers strategies for assessment as a means of making teaching more effective.

She draws attention to the need for children to acquire "positive attitudes and dispositions". Many of these, she argues, will be brought about through adult models, such as co-operation with others, creativity, critical reflection, curiosity and enthusiasm.

There are 12 practical sections in the book, each of which addresses a different theme and incorporates adult and child-initiated activities. I particularly liked the suggestions for setting up learning environments, the teacher-directed challenges, the teacher reflections, the suggestions for further activities and much more. All the sections look as though they would work well. The sequences of activities outlined are detailed without being prescriptive and could take one week or several.

Contributors' practical knowledge and experience have resulted in a publication which demonstrates the multi-faceted nature of early years practice.

Many practitioners in the foundation stage and key stage 1 are concerned about the increasing formalisation of literacy education for three to six-year-olds. Sue Palmer and Ros Bayley share this concern. The tendency to emphasise formal literacy skills too early has, they believe, generated a good deal of inappropriate practice.

Foundations of Literacy, intended as the first step in a larger venture, offers a structured, oral-based curriculum, which can be applied to Year 1, as well as nursery and reception.

The book's eight main sections include listening, talk, music, story, learning about print, and early writing. These broader skills will prepare children more effectively for later literacy teaching than narrow, formal reading and writing.

Each section begins with a clearly written rationale, followed by a series of double-page spreads focused on different aspects of learning. I liked the way suggested activities and approaches are not simply "one-offs", but provide coherent routines and ways of working. There is also advice at many different points about the role of the adult, such as how an adult can support talk during imaginative play.

Drawing on UK and European practice for this age group, the book begins with a section on listening. The authors suggest that practitioners in European countries spend more time supporting the development of listening in young children than their counterparts in the UK. Hence the section includes sound discrimination, social listening and the development of auditory memory.

The headings sound rather formal, but the activities and approaches are not. A section on music, movement and memory is included because "Musical activities lay the foundations for sensitivity to the 'tunes and cadences'

of written phrases, sentences and paragraphs".

There is the welcome recommendation that children are read to five times a day and there is a list of 50 tried and tested picture books. There are also suggestions for developing and re-enacting stories through role play, retelling, use of props, small world play (for instance, creating a world in a shoe box), puppets and drawing.

There are points to quibble over - for example, some practitioners will question the balance between adult and child-initiated activity, although clearly the balance shifts between three and six years old. I am sure, however, that many will value the practical support offered by Foundations of Literacy. Those new to the profession or suddenly finding themselves in front of a reception or Year 1 class for the first time will grab it with both hands.

* For more details about The Early Years Handbook contact the Geographical Association


Olivia O'Sullivan is assistant director of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education

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