A parent’s guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage. Early Reading.

It’s been eight months since I began blogging about the Early Years Foundation Stage. My daughter is now four years and seven months old –  it’s the Easter school holidays – a chance to consider this journey.

Once again I’ve been contacted by a national newspaper – I’ve agreed to do a telephone interview in two weeks time – depending on news priorities the feature in question may or may not see the light of print. Off and on I’ve been wondering what I’m going to say, of course. I like to interrupt these blog posts with a picture. This one is suitably surreal:

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Parenting doesn’t come with a set of instructions, does it? We all go through times when we doubt ourselves – I’m no exception. Most parents have an eventful time when their daughter starts school. As a mother, mine was particularly eventful as it marked nothing less than the start of a campaign to change the entire early years education system. Although I never really intended it to be a ‘campaign’ as such. It just evolved that way. 

The year before I had done NUJ training with Heather Brooke – to learn more about the Freedom of Information Act (you may not know, reader that it was Heather who broke the M.P’s expenses story) and I’d also completed NUJ training on new media and blogging. So it was natural that I was going to apply both sets of skills to my own situation and look at the story which presented itself in my own life. The early years story.

I left the NUJ training with Heather Brooke feeling as if she was really brilliant but that I could never measure up to her and could never achieve anything like what she has achieved. Uncovering the M.P’s expenses scandal was crucial in understanding the weaknesses in our democracy. It is safe to say that government will never be the same again.

At first glance and compared to the M.P’s expenses scandal – this ‘early years story’ may seem uneventful. It’s punctuated by the tedium of daily parental chores. The picking up of socks. Providing a home. Checking that teeth are cleaned, that your child gets to nursery on time. Most of this is still women’s work. How many dads do you see at the school/nursery gate?

But do you know what? In terms of what humanity, the media and democracy are supposed to be about – this ‘Early Years Story’ is more important than the M.P’s expenses scandal – for one very good reason. 

Of course we need to look at our M.P’s behaviour not  least because M.P’s are influential. But in Early Years we’re talking about children.  Children who are so young they simply cannot defend themselves against foolish policies or political expediency. It is so simple – but children ARE the future. Get it wrong in the early years and you can damage their future beyond repair.

There were many times when as a parent, I questioned the validity of my own actions. I’ve held on tight to what I instinctively thought was best for my child and what I believe to be the truth. Despite what I was being told by some so-called early years “professionals” in my immediate vicinity. Despite being slated by the “Mumsnet mafia”. Of course negative “parental peer pressure” can damage you and your family – if you let it – and we all risk facing it every time we stand at the school gate. (Although in my case and mostly – I’ve met with supportive comments there).

From where I’m standing right now – and whilst I don’t want to give the impression I’m trying to speak for all parents – maybe it took someone in my position to give voice to this particularly experience. The experience of being the mother of a small child who disagrees with current Early Years policies. Until I started this blog the experience remained undocumented.

So like matching up socks I’ve put one foot in front of the other – writing one blog post after another. Day by day.

It’s quite clearly what they call a niche blog still. With some cynicismI know , I’m not writing about a highly marketable subject like sex – I’m not blogging about a subject that produces the key words to fire up the Google search engine.

Journalists have been interested in why there haven’t been any other parents to date who have applied for a parental exemption. Some draw the (false) conclusion that the opposition to the EYFS learning and development requirements is a minority concern. I would offer the following explanation:

When you have a child your life changes dramatically. You cope with a baby (or two, or three?) and try to juggle baby, job and home life. You may not know much about the early years education system and the early years go so fast – you don’t have time to learn as much as you would like.

 Your life is well, interrupted. In the early years you’re very lucky if you get short spaces of time to yourself. Time to read, reflect consider. Parents like me have to get on with it. We sometimes muddle through.

In this sense we are at the mercy of any ill-advised policies that the government and commerce wants to throw at us. And we are quickly blamed when things go wrong.

But the blame for this particular education mistake lies squarely with the government.

 As I’ve mentioned before, we have ignored the homework that is sent home with our child. We read interesting books aloud (and not the boring reading books which appear in our child’s school bag). Doing this felt risky at times – were we doing the right thing?

Well. YES. Read Sebastian Suggate’s letter in Nursery World this week (my own letter was included last week). Sebastian conveyed some of the  important findings in his research namely:

“It is highly unlikely that children’s language is improved by reading, until they are in their fourth or fifth year of school, simply because the richness of language found in books that young children read is inferior to what they could obtain from oral discourse. Social confidence and pleasure can be gained in many ways during childhood – without touching a book. If social confidence is undermined by not reading early, then that must be the fault of the educators and parents more than the child”

To read Sebastian Suggate’s letter in full follow this link: Early Reading 


2 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Frances

    I enjoy reading your blog both professionally and personally as mum to a two year old. I do disagree with the part of Sebastian Suggate’s letter you have quoted though as I have blogged about myself

    It just seems to me that there is a big gap between saying not all children benefit from early reading, and saying that no child benefits from early reading. I’d agree with the former and definitely not with the latter – I was an enthusiastic early reader and the vocab I learned from books (ingots, alibi, cache, are among the words I actually remember learning!) would surely not generally be used in conversation with a four or five year old. Whether a four or five year old “needs” these words is another matter, but I really think the “richness” of language found in books that children read – once of course they have passed the “learning to read” stage – is not inferior to what they get from “oral discourse”.

    I hope you don’t mind me adding my two cents.


    • Posted by Frances Laing on April 1, 2010 at 10:08 pm

      Thanks very much Charlotte. Lovely to hear your feedback and your views, will consider these of course and thank you so much for taking the time


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