All together now: a collective community approach to improving early years literacy
Claire Woodsford, Blackpool Better Start’s Early Years Advisory Teacher, outlines how Literacy Weeks are supporting development of early years literacy skills in Blackpool.
Every year, Blackpool Better Start organises four ‘Literacy Weeks’ events aimed at parents and carers of children aged 0-4 in the local community.
The aim of the events is to support the development of early years literacy skills and promote and support a love of books and reading by holding fun sessions that capture the imagination of young children. In addition, the sessions are designed to promote and support the foundations of early mark making and to support settings and parents to develop children’s phonological awareness.
The timetable of events is a collective team effort and is planned and delivered by the Early Years team, Blackpool Libraries, the Park Ranger service and the Family Learning Team. The events are supported by the Blackpool Better Start Community Connector team who use them as an opportunity to speak to families and signpost them to other relevant local services.
Every Literacy Week has a different theme and is designed around developing a particular skill such as rhythm and rhyme or talking about stories/comprehension skills. The week we are planning for later this year will focus on using puppets and props to tell stories and parents and children will be encouraged to join in.
The programme of events take place in Family Hubs, local community centres, parks and libraries. The timetable includes things like literacy-themed forest school sessions, enhanced bounce and rhyme sessions and outdoor story trails. One week was themed around the story ‘Farmyard Hullabaloo’ and we invited a mobile petting farm to attend so families could meet the animals.
More recently, we organised sessions around ‘Thirty days wild’ and delivered storytelling sessions in outdoor spaces such as local community gardens and libraries.
The events are always very well attended and are promoted on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. We have found that post-pandemic, there is a real demand from families to attend face-to-face events, and this has certainly been reflected in the numbers attending our sessions.
Parents have been very vocal about their enjoyment of the events. Wonderful feedback that we have received includes the following:
“Brilliant story time and fantastic activities to support development. We will definitely use these ideas at home.”
“My son has opportunities to access resources we would have at home, as well as socialise with other children and learn new skills. Ultimately, we feel included.”
“All activities were amazing. Children enjoyed every minute of being here. Absolutely fantastic.”
“Fantastic ideas with lovely people. We will definitely be joining again.”
We’ve also had really great feedback from other services about the benefits of partnership working. Comments include:
“Working together gives us a chance to learn more about each other’s offer and regular events which then leads to more informed signposting. It also helps to utilise the available venues which strengthens everyone’s offer with new ideas and special events.”
“It helps families to see us as a connected service.”
“Events like these are beneficial for us to link in and make better connections. From our perspective, partnership is the key.”
The next literacy week is planned for the week of 10th October and will be themed around using puppets and props when telling stories.
About A Better Start
A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.
Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.
The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier
The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.
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