Saturday 23 March 2019

Reading levels are zooming ahead with parents’ help

Top of the class: Brody McCann (5), Ryan O’Neill (5), and Adnann Nabinbun Kamara (5), who attend junior infants at St Laurence O’Toole’s Junior Boys School at a Zoom Ahead with Books exhibition. Photo: Damien Eagers
Top of the class: Brody McCann (5), Ryan O’Neill (5), and Adnann Nabinbun Kamara (5), who attend junior infants at St Laurence O’Toole’s Junior Boys School at a Zoom Ahead with Books exhibition. Photo: Damien Eagers
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

To Dr Josephine Bleach, parental involvement is the key to the academic success of children in primary school.

Josephine is director of the Early Learning Initiative, a nine-year-old project that has helped to bring about dramatic improvements in literacy and numeracy in the docklands area of Dublin. The ELI is a community project run by the National College of Ireland (NCI), and its success is being studied closely by educators across the country.

The initiative focuses on parents almost as much as children, and before kids are even in school home visitors give families books to read.

Dr Bleach says: “All the studies show that parents are the most important educators, but the home-learning environment is perhaps the most neglected area of all in education.”

The parental involvement in a child’s learning starts as soon as they are born. Dr Bleach believes mothers and fathers should read to their children at a very young age. “It’s not just about reading a book from cover to cover. Parents should talk about the pictures, ask questions, sing songs about the stories, and play games.”

According to Dr Bleach, when parents and families read to their children even from when they are babies, they are more likely to go to college.

When I visit NCI, proud parents and their children from St Laurence O’Toole Junior Boys’ School are showing off the results of a project, Zoom Ahead with Books. The four-week programme encourages children to bring home books from school.

The children and one of the parents read the books together.  They talk about them and then both parent and child draw pictures of one of their favourite moments in the book.

At the end of the programme, the parent and child each submit one of these artworks for an exhibition. The drawings are displayed side by side.

More than 10,000 books have been read since the programme started in 2009.

“The children and their parents love this, because it is not like homework,” says Dr Bleach. “It’s quality one-to-one time when they can switch off the phone, relax and read a book.”The concentration on reading in Irish schools over the past five years seems to be bearing fruit.

Recent studies by the Educational Research Centre in Dublin show that performance in reading is significantly higher than in 2009.

There has been a drop from 35pc to 22pc in the proportion of children in second class whose reading is at the lowest level, and an increase from 35pc to 45pc in high performers.

St Laurence O’Toole’s Junior Boys’ is one of the dockland schools where the children are benefiting from a strong focus on reading and books.

Mary Moore, principal of the school, says Zoom Ahead with Books is one of the highlights of the school year.

“We put a great emphasis on literacy and numeracy,” says the principal. “We have a literacy hour in every class every day called the Hour of Power in which our teachers and special needs assistants concentrate on a different aspect of literacy.”

Sharon Martin says her four-year-old son Kyle has enjoyed reading since he took part in Zoom Ahead with Books. “He has come on so much in his ability and he is always thinking about what he will draw next.”

The parents and children not only draw pictures based on the stories. On my visit to NCI they are acting out scenes from stories, including Cinderella.

Dr Bleach says: “If a child is to do well in school they need support from both home and school. Parents often notice things that teachers don’t see, and they should be able to communicate that to the school.”

The head of the Early  Learning Initiative says that reading and playing games with kids not only helps  them academically. It also  improves relationships with them later on.

Tips for parents on how to boost child's learning

Dr Josephine Bleach, director of the Early Learning Initiative, says parents can help to improve a child's academic performance.

Read books to a child from a very young age

Don't just read the story. Talk about the pictures, ask questions and even sing songs.

Use props such as clothes pegs to show how sums works. For example, if you have five clothes pegs, show what happens when you take away two.

Play word games when you are driving or out and about

Don't tell a child to do something without explaining why. Talk through the experience with them. If the child has to get off their bike to cross the road, explain the issue of safety.

If your child is having difficulty doing their homework get in touch with the teacher.

Irish Independent

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