What is early literacy and why are early literacy practices important?

Contrary to popular belief, early literacy, or emergent literacy, is not merely teaching reading and writing. The focus is rather to train your child so that they are equipped with a solid set of pre-literacy skills to draw upon when they are ready to read. It is particularly important to build early literacy during the childhood years, as this will help to maximise their potential in later years. During the ages of zero to three, a critical window of opportunity arises, as a child’s brain is two-and-a-half times more active than an adult’s. The brain is operating at an extremely rapid pace, rendering this period crucial for learning. Recent research demonstrates this, highlighting that early literacy skills predict literacy in later life even after controlling for socioeconomic status and IQ.

So, what does this look like in practice?

There are five core early literacy practices you can start doing with your child today: talking, singing, reading, writing and playing.

Developing early literacy practices can start from anything as basic as simply talking to your children or involving them in environments where they may be constantly surrounded by conversation. Many of us parents have witnessed moments, either to our delight or dismay, where children have suddenly blurted out a word for the first time or repeated a word over and over that they have learnt. This is no surprise, given children naturally observe, remember, and mimic words that they hear in different contexts.

Likewise, early literacy practices can also involve singing to children, which is why many preschools and kindergartens incorporate nursery rhymes, breaking down every sound, letter, and syllable to help children recognise rhythm and articulation.  

In terms of early reading, the best way to develop this is through shared reading. Shared reading is also known as interactive reading, as children share the experience of reading with the support of a teacher. Often, the language used in books is richer than the language used in normal conversation. Therefore, the benefit of shared reading is that the teacher may guide the child through techniques such as alliteration, rhyming and onomatopoeia. They may read with expression and emphasis, at times dramatically even, so that children develop early phonological awareness of linguistic elements.

As both reading and writing are vital ways to communicate, it is important to encourage your child to mark-make, scribble and draw pictures. Writing is dependent on fine and gross motor skills, which these activities help to facilitate. Eventually, when your child is comfortable with drawing pictures and symbols, you can gradually add new words and point out the sound of these with them.

Finally, play is an effective method for developing all of the above, as play enables children to explore ideas and make sense of the world around them. Play provides the platform for which children can learn to express themselves. In play, children will use objects to symbolically represent other things. This lays concrete foundations for the later use of abstract symbols such as letters, helping to enhance literacy skills in the long term. If you would like to read more about the benefits of play, you can head to our other blog titled ‘The Power of Play’.

There are factors to support the effectiveness of early literacy, including the use of high-quality teaching instruction, close teacher and child relationships as well as consistent exposure to safe learning environments. At Mulberry House, we promote early literacy development through our holistic, bilingual immersion environment. Our teachers are knowledgeable and certified, and are able to passionately guide your children through early literacy practices. If you would like to learn more, please do not hesitate to contact us.

What to look for when choosing the right primary school for your child

Choosing a primary school can be a challenging and worrisome process. How do we know which Primary school is best for our children? What are the types of things we should look out for when choosing schools? To help parents make well-informed decisions, Ms Susan Ward, our founding principal, along with Ms Becky, our K2 English teacher, share some insight as to the challenges faced by parents and highlight 4 key considerations to take into account when looking for the right school.

Parents often start their Primary school search by listening to the recommendations of friends, relatives, or colleagues. Many of us might have heard things along the lines of ‘my child goes to X and he loves it’, or ‘my friend goes to Y and it’s great!’ Some of us might even have liked what we heard so much we even chose those same schools for our own children. Yet, the problem with this is that when judging a school by the opinions of others, we often get emotional opinions not factual information. How do we know that the school Emily mentioned would be suitable for our own child too? Or what about the one Susan recommended…what is it about that school their child likes? Although recommendations can be useful when researching schools, it is necessary to dive a bit deeper, asking questions like ‘what makes this school my friend mentioned good?’ Or ‘why does my friend like this school in specific compared to other schools? What is it about this school that they like?’ Make sure to get specific information on each individual school as choice of school is often not a one-size-fits-all. Every school has its own merits and downfalls, and must be considered together with the needs of your child. Without further ado, let’s get into some of these considerations…

Consideration # 1: Start with a discussion amongst your family on what you want for your child
First of all, it is very important for you to be thinking about your child and what is right for him/her and not what is right for other people. A good starting point would be looking at what your educational beliefs are. What type of curriculum would suit your child best? What about the language of instruction? Does the school adopt bilingual/dual language presence at school? What homework expectations are there? Are you a parent that wants your child to have more homework or would you prefer the school to have a more equal balance of extracurricular activities with homework? Homework can often affect the home work life balance; would you be available to help your child long term if they are in a school that gives out a big workload? Location considerations are needed too; your child will be at school 5-6 hours a day so it is important to factor in travelling times as your child may be very tired. Budget may also make or break your decision as there may be additional hidden costs involved so try to research this beforehand.

Consideration # 2: School tours and visits
Secondly, it is good to do your research online to find out more. Look at the websites of different schools…what is their philosophy, curriculum, language etc? When you have contemplated these, choose your preferred 3-5 schools and visit them. Prepare some questions to ask on-site and make sure you know everything you need to know about them. Take your child with you and try to see the school from the perspective of your child. There will be things you like and dislike about each school, but what is important is that you look for a balance in these and focus on the right ‘fit’for your child and family. 

Consideration # 3: Year of birth
Each school has a year of birth for admissions. Schools only accept children born within that birth range. If your child was born late in the school year, it could result in non-acceptance. If your child was born early, it could result in him/her not being ready for Primary school socially and/or academically. You can research this information on school websites. Remember that it is not a race and that it is better for a child to be older amongst the year group than the youngest socially and academically.Again, think about the needs of your child and what is right for their learning.

Consideration # 4: Apply to a few schools
Finally, do not put all your eggs in 1 basket. Parents should apply to a few schools so as to make sure there are options to choose from.

So there you have it! The 4 key considerations to take into account when choosing the right school for your child. We all want to give our child the best advantage possible, but it is important to make sure your choice of school is somewhere that is suited to the needs of your child as well as fitting into the values of your family. The right school for your child will differ according to his/her individual case. Importantly, remember to look at where you would see your child being the best version of themselves they can be. Looking at your expectations of education, online websites and info, cut off dates for year of birth and applying to several are all good places to start.

In March we will also be giving a live Facebook session on ‘Primary School interview readiness: 5 things you need to know’ so stay tuned to learn more!

How to Manage Screen Time

With the rapid development of technology in the modern day, children are spending more time than ever on electronic devices. A lot of studies have shown that excessive use of the screen can affect the development of children, with studies referencing obesity, a lack of concentration, a lack of sleep, emotional anxiety, social disturbance and other factors. We have also heard many parents complain about their children staying on their phones all day and many seem to be believe electronic products hinder their child’s development too. Yet, internet and social media can also increase children’s interest in reading and learning. So how should parents balance this? What is the appropriate screen time for children? How can we encourage our children to use these devices effectively to learn? Can we prevent them from excessively using them mindlessly? Let us discuss these questions today!

  • What is the appropriate screen time for children 

According to a survey conducted by the American Academy of Children, a child under 18 months of age should not have any screen time, though as they get older, the screen time can be increased appropriately. The following is a reference table of screen time for preschoolers.

Age Screen Time
Under 18 months – 
18-24 months accompanied by parents 30 minutes/day
2-5 years old1 hour / day
after 6 years old2 hours / day
  • How to Manage Children’s Screen Time Effectively?

1. Set a good example with your own device use

Children see us as role models, so model the behaviour you want to see in your own children. If you start reading books or newspapers, they may also follow you.

2. Schedule “screen-free” mealtimes

Family mealtimes are important opportunities to connect with each other, and for kids to learn mealtime etiquette and practice conversational skills. For adults too, mealtime is an important time to switch off digital distractions. So, you might decide to enjoy a screen-free dinner with family.

3. Indoor or outdoor activities

Lack of entertainment is one of the reasons why children stick to digital devices. Therefore, parents should provide a variety of games, such as storybooks, musical instruments or sports, etc. In addition, you should enjoy the game with them, explore the fun of various activities, and organize outdoor activities.

4. Set up a shared space

Dedicate one area of the house to electronic devices. Here is where you store your phones, ipads and other devices. That way, you can observe how long children are spending on electronic devices. You may also download some learning games and apps for them or direct them toward educational websites

5. Agree an appropriate length of time that they can use the devices

Put in place a family agreement to set some boundaries and do not break them. For example, screen time is only from 7pm – 8pm, or only after finishing homework. Treat it seriously!!

6. Discuss together about the time they spend online

Parents should accompany their child when they are watching television programmes or using digital devices. You can try to understand what they are doing and explain your concerns. You should respond actively when children have questions during the process.

7. Electronic products belong to you

Children will cry when they cannot get what they want and ask for satisfaction. Before providing the devices, parents should inform children that they are not the owners. They should ask for consent every time and return within the specified time.

The right amount of screen time is an important part. Parents should design methods in response to family conditions and each child’s personality. That way, electronic resources can instead be advantageous in improving children’s learning and growth.

The Power of Play

There are many misconceptions about the idea of play as a learning tool. After all, what are children really learning?

It is well researched and documented that play is the most powerful learning tool for young children and yet in many cultures it is undervalued and misunderstood. Experts would agree that ‘play is children’s work’, it’s how children make sense of their world and make learning meaningful to them. Play is absolutely critical for every child’s overall emotional, cognitive, intellectual, physical and language development as well as their overall well-being. Young children are not yet wired for formal, whole class, rigid and didactic teaching and it can have negative implications on a child’s confidence, development and learning if they are rushed into primary school expectations prematurely.

The inclusion of play has been well researched and documented as early as the 17th Century and implemented into early year’s education policy making in many countries around the world including the USA, Finland, UK and Australia. Hong Kong policy makers begun to implement play and child-centred learning into their curriculum guidance in 1981 and have continued to advocate this approach with the launch of their new curriculum guidance ‘Kindergarten Education Curriculum Guide – Joyful Learning through Play, Balanced Development All the Way’ (Curriculum Development Council, 2017).

The benefits of play are endless. Play motivates children and when children are motivated and interested they learn naturally. Play provides the platform for children to take control, take risks, develop language, empathy, friendships, solve problems, form conclusions, test out ideas and concepts. For instance a child who may seem to be aimlessly playing with blocks may be practicing a new found skill such as stacking blocks on top of each other, or learning the name and characteristics of a new shape. Children are also learning about quantity, weight, volume and other mathematical and scientific concepts, not to mention developing their hand-eye coordination and small muscle development. All of these skills help to form the all-important foundations for future academic success.

By giving children space to play they are able to explore ideas, relationships, and feelings and make connections between one experience and another. They need opportunities within play to use one thing to represent another, for example using a block as a mobile phone. This lays critical foundations for the later use of abstract symbols such as letters and numbers to represent ideas.

Because the learning benefits of play are not always directly visible to parents and inexperienced teachers there is sometimes pressure to get children to produce physical evidence, such as producing work on paper because they think this is evidence of learning, which of course is not the case. In play children can put ideas and concepts into context. For example a child role playing how many cups and saucers they need for their four friends or cutting a pizza into four pieces, one for each of them is much more meaningful than being given a worksheet to teach the concept of four and one to one correspondence.

Parents sometimes worry that play is a ‘waste of time’ and that their children are not learning. However, children making a later start to formal schooling generally achieve greater success academically because their play based early years’ experience was meaningful and gave them a solid foundation for later learning.

To maximise children’s learning through play a high quality early years programme is essential. Young children should be taught by knowledgeable and skillful teachers. They need to understand the various types and levels of play as well as know when to intervene and scaffold the children’s learning, taking them to the next level. Our teachers at Mulberry House create stimulating learning environments which provide a balance of child initiated, imaginative, messy, sensory, creative, physical and teacher directed play opportunities. Time should be given for the all-important deep level learning which is a critical component of quality play. An environment should be created where children can feel safe, valued, confident and supported. A platform for children to be able to follow their interests and passions, to make choices, test their ideas and to learn from their mistakes and successes are the best learning opportunities we can provide during those important foundation years.

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