The Early Years Foundation Stage. Parental input and early reading

Interesting that the editors at ‘Children and Young People Now’ have recently deemed criticisms of the Early Years Foundation Stage learning and development requirements important enough to warrant taking on a blogger who appears to be dedicated to the subject.

It’s high time the ‘educational’ press took these matters more seriously. I’ve been wondering for quite some time why I appeared to be the only parent journalist who was analysing and commenting critically on the EYFS.

I was intrigued to read Children-and-Young-People -Now- blogger Charlotte Goddard’s  comments on my last post. Charlotte is a mother of one child aged two and blogs as ‘media mum’ on the Children and Young People Now magazine site.

Perhaps I would gain more blog traffic if I were prepared to be a journalist who is controversial for the sake of being controversial. But in this case, I just can’t stomach that. Because, we are, after all talking about our children’s futures.

Personally, I’m glad to be able to write freely about this (no-one is paying me to write this blog), and I don’t have to ‘pay a piper’ in any way, as I imagine some journalists writing about Early Years politics are subtly required to do…yet another reason why this country needs independent bloggers who are not attached to a particular publication, may I suggest… 

But on a practical level I don’t have any child care right now it’s the Easter hols – and I could do with some time away from the computer screen – so forgive me if my own analysis stops here for the moment. However (and at the risk of being mistakenly labelled a Steiner-supporter – which as you all know has happened before) – I’m offering you all some feedback from Dr. Richard House (just received by email) his comments on the  early reading question and Charlotte Goddard’s post are englightening, I’m sure you’ll agree.

 May I make clear to readers once again – I’m NOT a Steiner supporter – I just think that Dr. House talks good sense and thank you to both Dr. House and Charlotte for taking the time to communicate. Long live a truly democratic debate and let’s all hope the views of parents feature more prominently in the ‘educational’ press in future. Especially the views of the many parents who are critical of the EYFS.

Here’s the quote from Dr. Richard House:

“Charlotte’s point is an important one, and deserves a full response. It would be foolish to argue that either every child, or no child, is unduly harmed by an early introduction to literacy learning; and to the extent that Charlotte is saying that, I agree. But I believe that we are speaking about deep archetypes of childhood and children’s development here, and from that kind of perspective I think it is legitimate to make generalised statements about child development, whilst acknowledging that it would be absurd to insist on the archetype being mechanistically and insensitively applied to every single child! 

   Charlotte wrote that “I certainly got a lot of enjoyment out of my reading”. However, the problem with using data on children’s enthusiasm for or enjoyment of early literacy, as an argument in favour of it, is that many, if not most, children tend to do (and often enjoy) what they know will please the adults/parents around them; and unfortunately we are all caught up in a “hyper-modern” culture in which both parents and mainstream thinking peddles the quite unsubstantiated ideology that it is somehow helpful if young children get a “head” (!) start in the learning stakes (just listen, for example, to informal conversations between parents who are locked in thinly-veiled competitive discussions about whose child is furthest ahead in their learning and capabilities – I’m sure we’ve all heard them). People like Sebastian Suggate and the Open EYE campaign strongly believe that the opposite is the case, and that if children are taken or coaxed, however unwittingly, into unbalanced cognitive-intellectual learning at too young an age, it has quite possibly life-long consequences for both their all-round development and their attitudes and dispositions to learning.

   Charlotte also speaks about “the “richness” of language found in books that children read”; yet what she has to demonstrate is why on earth it is in any way helpful for a child’s overall long-term learning and development for them to be encountering words like “ingots”, “alibi” and “cache” at the age of 4? – and nothing that she has written here remotely shows how this could conceivably be the case, i.e. why there is some developmental advantage to be gained from a child learning these words at the age 4 rather than at, say, 7 or 8.

   Finally, campaigns like Open EYE do tend to take up a robust position on these issues that may at times sound rhetorical and single-minded; but this is in large part because we are immersed in a culture that is giving exactly the opposite message to ours, and the contrary position we are taking up is an absolutely necessary one in order to inject some kind of balance into the culture-wide debate on these issues. And if we are anything like right in our concerns, then it would be tantamount to be “fiddling while Rome burns” to be adopting “cautious” and “equivocal” positions on these matters”.

You can read blogger Charlotte Goddard’s criticisms of Sebastian Suggate’s letter in Children and Young People Now magazine at this link:

Early Reading and the Early Years Foundation Stage

 Read Sebastian Suggate’s letter on early reading in Nursery World at this link: Early Reading and the Early Years Foundation Stage



2 responses to this post.

  1. On behalf of Dr Sebastion Suggate

    I would like to post a comment on this blog in response to a comment by Charlotte Goddard disagreeing with my letter in Nursery World. The essence of Ms Goddard’s disagreement with my letter is that she believes that early reading of books such as Narnia at age four taught her words that she definitely would not have come across in ‘oral discourse’. The first point to make is that my claim that it is unlikely that children encounter new words from reading text over other learning environments, arises from a study of average readers (Nagy and Anderson, 1984) and therefore cannot lead to strong conclusions about individual readers (if her reported early reading ability is accurate, Ms Goddard would likely have been categorised by psychologists as a precocious reader).

    The research is also in need of updating, I might add by way of qualification, and this aspect of the field is actually quite under-researched (which I am currently trying to rectify), However, from the retrospective account of hers, whereby words such as ‘alibi’ were encountered in text and understood through context, three points come to mind. First, it is quite possible that other children who were playing, instead of reading these complicated books, learnt words that Ms Goddard did not. Second, I would like to underscore that reading depends on the coming together of two processes. On the one hand there is ‘decoding’ – that is the turning of text into language. The second is the understanding of that language. Even if a young child learns to recognise and repeat – perhaps even in context- words, it does not mean that the requisite comprehension of these words is in place.

    Learning a language is a life-long phenomenon and, if I may make a personal remark, I am always discovering new meanings, roots and applications of words that I have probably known since I was four years old. In short, it is highly likely that young children’s encountering and deciphering of new words is only accompanied by a superficial understanding of their meaning. This raises questions as to how much this process can be meaningfully accelerated through either reading, or superficially enriched language environments. Third, the question has to be asked, whether it is still appropriate for four, five or even six year old children, on average, to be reading text, to be working with language in such an abstract form. As I mentioned in my earlier letter to Nursery World, there is some evidence that children initially in play-rich preschool versus academic environments have better later academic achievement (Marcon, 2002). Important neurological development, as well as fine motor-skill development, occurs during this period. However, further research is desperately needed, as there is a possibility that replacing imaginative, language and motor activities with early reading acquisition, is gambling with child development, whatever the stakes.


    • Posted by Frances Laing on May 12, 2010 at 11:52 am

      Just to say Wendy, thanks very much for yours (and Dr. Suggate’s important contribution). Look forward to seeing him at the Open Eye conference…


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