Many of the participating parents have said that they now feel much more confident when reading stories with their children, and that they are better at identifying the progress that has been made. It is very much a partnership between the practitioners, the parents and the children themselves.
Professor Cathy Nutbrown
A family literacy project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and developed by researchers at the University of Sheffield, has reached 100 times more families than originally anticipated. The programme aims to help children to develop their language, reading and writing skills from an early age by making parents an integral part of the learning process.
Earlier this year, a National Literacy Trust report revealed that children in the United Kingdom are more likely to lack basic reading and writing skills than their Australian or Canadian counterparts. This is despite the fact that the UK spends four per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on family benefits, compared with 1.2 percent in the United States and 1.4 per cent in Canada. Project leader Professor Cathy Nutbrown, Director of Research at the University of Sheffield’s School of Education, shared the ‘ORIM Framework in the Raising Early Achievement in Literacy’ project amongst Early Years practitioners such as nursery workers, teachers, child-minders and family support units, to help them to more effectively plan and evaluate family literacy work.
I spoke to Professor Nutbrown to find out how this approach benefits children. As she explained, the project targets children before their first year of school, and helps them to develop an interest in literacy from an early age. Moreover, participating parents gain the skills necessary to improve their children’s literacy levels.
"Parents really are their children’s best educators," said Professor Nutbrown. "Children acquire language from those with whom they spend the most time. For this reason, it is very important to ensure that parents have opportunities to learn how young children develop language and literacy. This is the basis upon which we developed the work conducted in conjunction with pre-school practitioners."
The ORIM Framework focuses on four key elements: opportunities to engage with literacy and the ability to utilise these opportunities, recognition of progress being made by children so that parents can monitor what has been achieved so far, interaction with literacy in everyday situations such as writing birthday cards or reading bedtime stories, and modelling whereby parents show their children that reading and writing are parts of every day life.
Professor Nutbrown stated that working alongside Early Years professionals gives parents more confidence to understand how their children learn.
"Practitioners can share information and make suggestions," she explained. "Many of the participating parents have said that they now feel much more confident when reading stories with their children, and that they are better at identifying the progress that has been made. It is very much a partnership between the practitioners, the parents and the children themselves."
One of the advantages offered by the ORIM Framework is its flexibility. It enables Early Years practitioners to adapt and develop strategies to suit specific families, rather than adopting a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
"The project allows practitioners to take ownership of the idea, develop it, and adapt it to suit the families that they are working with," said Professor Nutbrown.
Whilst the approach was originally intended to be shared amongst 60 families, Professor Nutbrown and her colleagues discovered that it had actually reached approximately 6,000.
"We asked 20 practitioners to try out ideas with two or three families each," she explained. "What happened in reality was that practitioners tailored their ideas to suit different situations. They not only developed their own ideas, but also shared them with hundreds of their colleagues. When we added together the number of families that had experienced some level of involvement, it came to around 6,000. We were astounded."
When asked why she thought that the project had enjoyed such success, Professor Nutbrown reiterated its ability to be adapted to suit the specific needs of the individual families.
"ORIM fits in with the numerous demands involved in working with young children in home and group settings," she explained. "You don’t have to set aside a specific amount of time. The feedback that we have received reveals how much participating families enjoyed the work, and shows that parents now feel much more confident about their children’s learning."
Professor Nutbrown intends to meet with the 20 practitioners in October to see how many of them have continued to use the programme.
"I am also collaborating with the National Children’s Bureau (NCB)," she concluded. "The NCB has been working with me for the last three years on another version of the project known as ‘Making it Real’. In fact, lots of different local authorities are beginning to contact me to say that they are interested in using the scheme. I hope that in the future, different ideas and strands of this project will adopted and implemented on an even wider scale."