Giving children the ability to see the REAL World

Two programme leads outline how training for foster carers using the Raising Early Achievement in Literacy (REAL) approach has enhanced learning for looked after children in Sandwell, West Midlands.

Seeing the REAL World through the Eyes of a Child is a four-week training programme for foster carers with children aged from two-to-eight years.

The programme is based on the National Children's Bureau's Sharing REAL with Parents, which helps parents to understand their roles in children's early literacy development.

The crucial factor is to influence the home learning environment for looked after children (LAC), which for us meant that we had to build on our foster carers' experiences, knowledge, skills and practice.

In addition to this, the good level of development for LAC needed to improve, as Early Years Foundation Stage Profile data indicated that these children were 30 per cent behind their peers.

Bringing it to life

REAL offers ‘hands on’ experiences which explore children's literacy development through oral language, environmental print, sharing and reading books and early writing.

Every workshop we set up linked the four literacy strands to the Parents, Early Years and Learning (PEAL) Posters which identified play activities that support a high-quality home learning environment.

The PEAL posters flagged play activities which help children learn because they ‘stretch a child's mind’, inviting children to think more deeply and giving them more confidence.

The play activities are:

  • Reading with and to children and going to the library
  • Singing songs and rhymes
  • Going out and about on visits
  • Drawing and painting
  • Playing with friends
  • Playing with letters and numbers
  • Listening, talking and thinking
  • Doing real things together
  • Letting children have a go for themselves
  • Imagining and pretending

In the two-hour sessions over the four weeks, foster carers would think about how everyday objects, experiences and activities can support a child's literacy development.

A wide collection of objects and photos were used to inspire conversation and participation!

Ideas and resources included:

  • Bubbles
  • Cake tins
  • Junk Mail – take away menus, recipes, leaflets
  • Paint brushes/paint sets
  • Children's books
  • Photos of local environmental print
  • Train and bus tickets
  • Photo of a parent and child having a conversation

Gauging the response

Feedback from the foster carers was simply amazing! They quickly saw how all four strands of Literacy intertwined.

The oral language strand generated much discussion on the value of how talking with their child and singing songs and rhymes as part of an everyday routine would help children to listen, take interest, repeat and expand their vocabulary.

Key learning from each workshop was typed up and presented through a portfolio, including photographic evidence capturing the adult learning which had taken place. These were positively received by all the foster carers. In fact, many stated that they were going to use the portfolios as part of their supervision with their supervising social workers.

Introducing the ORIM framework - Opportunities, Recognition, Interaction and Modelling through Map Making!

One of the tasks we set the foster carers was to illustrate all the four strands of Literacy and bring to life the ORIM framework through making maps.

They shared examples of opportunities to support their child's literacy and we encouraged them to get the child involved in the map making process. Carers talked about ideas, experiences and unplanned opportunities both in their home and out and about in their local area.

Foster carers shared examples of how they recognised their child's learning style, acknowledging their child's progress, achievements and areas of development.

They spoke about how they interacted with their child through talking, sharing, laughing, singing and communicating, including the use of technology. They shared examples of how they modelled literacy with their child through copying, pretending and role-play, or as one of the foster carers said, ‘they watch what we do.

Jigsaws of development

To help foster carers to recognise children's achievements we used the jigsaws of development from the REAL parent leaflets, demonstrating each literacy strand.

Each literacy jigsaw set out steps of literacy development through skills, attitudes, concepts and development that children demonstrate as their love for literacy blossomed.

What has been the impact?

A total of 41 foster carers have received the training.

We conducted evaluations pre and post training with them and we did follow up contact a few months after the training to ensure they were still embedding the four strands of literacy into everyday experiences.

Prior to the training, 50 per cent of foster carers said that they felt confident in supporting their child in early literacy. Post-training, 94 per cent said that they now felt more confident in supporting their child in early literacy.

Seeing the REAL World through the Eyes of Your Child is now core training in the foster carer training manual.

Comments from evaluations

Foster carers have said how much they have learnt from the training and how it has impacted on their practice. One said: ‘I am now aware of how important playing is in the development of a child and how it leads to a good grasp of reading and writing. I shall carry on playing with all children and don't care how daft I look’!

Another said: ‘I found this course to be energising, exciting and very informative regarding the ways in which we use literacy as a whole throughout every day – with our children’.

Feedback on the way the course was taught was particularly positive: ‘This made all the difference. It was fun and lively. I was valued for being here. It made me want to learn more and put into practice what I learnt’.

Impact on partnerships – in Sandwell and nationally

We have ensured stronger working relationships between the LACE team and Quality Early Years and Childcare Services team, which has seen an increase in joined up working in-house. For example:

  • Sharing data on where LAC are receiving early years provision
  • Working with data intelligence on the GLD for LAC in and outside borough
  • Introduction of Chat, Play, Read Home visits to Reception aged LAC and their carers
  • Increased profile of training with Sandwell Children's Trust

Following an invitation from Professor Cathy Nutbrown to the ORIM Network Meeting at the University of Sheffield (May 2019), we presented the success of Seeing the REAL World through the Eyes of a Child with three foster carers sharing the impact of the training on film. In the recent LACE Peer Review, the training was seen as pivotal for the future success in raising quality outcomes for both foster carers and children in care.

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