Read-a-thon: a week-long storytelling event in Southend

Sian Ansell and Lynsey Weston, Communication and Language Specialist Early Years Teachers with A Better Start Southend, describe how over fifty early years settings in the city came together to share the same story with local children.

As part of our Festival of Conversations in October 2022, our Communication & Language Specialist Early Years Teachers organised a ‘Chat-a-long Read-a-thon’ week-long storytelling event where Early Years providers were invited to share a special story at their settings.

The idea was to promote the love of reading and storytelling and to encourage chats about the book and its themes. The story, The Bear Who Stared by Duncan Beedie, is an illustrated children’s book which features a bear who learns how to communicate.

Readers were encouraged to support the storytelling with imaginative props and environments. Over fifty Early Years settings, including childminders, libraries, family centres and stay and play events, joined in with the event which ensured an excellent reach to their families and hopefully beyond.

To capture the activities of the week, readers were invited to take video footage where possible of the readings in action. The team received many versions and through discussions with our videographer at the festival, the team were helped with editing the different versions together; firstly as a slideshow format and secondly, as a compilation sequence with sound. The results show the mixture of ways the book was delivered and is a reminder of a week where children shared a story experience across the city.

To develop the storytelling further, the team approached members of the community to help translate the story into other languages. An array of people came forward to help; currently we have Welsh, Russian, French and Ukrainian versions, and we are working towards Arabic, Albanian, Italian and Portuguese versions in 2023. Once collated, the team intend to share across a campaign in the new year to promote the mini-series. Watch the Russian version

The team’s existing ‘Chat, Sing, Play, Read’ leaflets, which provide tips on how best to support children’s communication and language skills, have also recently been developed with the help of volunteers, with recordings in Romanian and Portuguese. Again, further videos are in the pipeline. The no-fuss homemade videos are designed to appeal to viewers.

The Bear Who Stared screenshot

The commitment from the team hasn’t gone unrecognised with their recent win of the Early Years Award at the Children & Young People Now Awards. And subsequently, they have been approached by the Early Years Alliance to consider taking on responsibility for convening the NALDIC Early Years Special Interest Group.

NALDIC is the National Subject Association for English as an Additional Language (EAL). The group meets once a term to discuss all things EAL related to the early years: a great opportunity to learn more about ways that others are supporting their EAL families and for the team to then implement across our A Better Start Southend wards.

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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