It takes a village to raise a child

02 Jul 2019
Small Talk young girl playing

With the launch of a new national campaign to encourage families to fill their young children’s worlds with words at home, our Head of Home Learning Environment Judith Parke reflects back on our commitment to this cause since our inception.

At the National Literacy Trust, we know that early language is the foundation of all literacy. To improve literacy levels in the UK, interventions that begin when a child is at school aren’t enough on their own. We need to be with parents from the first day of their child’s life, encouraging more talking and communication between them from the very beginning.

The National Literacy Trust has a long track record of applying nudge theory and social marketing approaches to this challenge and, over the past few years, has called on the Government to do the same.

We are thrilled that the Government has signalled its commitment to adopt this approach with the announcement of their new public-facing campaign, Hungry Little Minds, today, and we look forward to working with them and supporting their wider plans as part of their early years coalition of businesses, media organisations, tech companies and charities who aim to help halve the number of five-year-olds who start school without good early language and communication skills by 2028.

Successful approaches to strengthening early language are based on campaigning matched with access to strong local services working together and targeted, local support. This new campaign will help to build on the work we’ve been doing to support families with young children since the National Literacy Trust was founded 26 years ago.

In 2004, we held our first national Talk To Your Baby conference, bringing early years academics, frontline staff and policy experts together to highlight the importance of early communication. The conference has run every year since and is now a key calendar date for anyone wanting to improve outcomes for children through early language development.

Our early years programmes have always focused on this goal too. Our longest-running early years programme, Early Words Together, helps to improve communication in the home for young children. By training early years staff and volunteers to work with parents, parents learn about the benefits of chatting, playing and reading with their child from a young age – and then the child reaps the rewards as they grow.

We also recently launched Small Talk, our project to help parents develop the skills and confidence they need to boost their child’s language skills at home, before they start school. small-talk.org.uk offers information and advice, and thousands of business volunteers supported by early years professionals in disadvantaged communities are being mobilised to deliver a series of public events, showing parents simple and fun activities which will boost their child’s early language skills. The project has already reached 430 families in deprived communities, with thousands more visiting the website each month.

All of our early years work is delivered in areas of deprivation. We take interventions like Early Words Together and Small Talk to the places and communities where they are needed most. This strategy is a key pillar of our work and the rationale behind our National Literacy Trust Hubs, where we work in communities with the highest literacy need in the UK.

We now have nine Hubs in total, and in each we work with a range of stakeholders including local authorities, education organisations, voluntary and community sector partners and, increasingly, businesses. In order to effect real change, this kind of place-based, integrated working is crucial – especially when it comes to improving children’s early communication.

To really change the behaviour of families, our message about the importance of chatting, playing and reading needs to be visible wherever they go – whether that’s in their local supermarket, library, doctor’s surgery or even food bank – and we work with key local partners to achieve this.

By increasing the support given to children in the early years through every sector of the community, we help them reach their true potential. The saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ has never been more true – from national campaigns like Hungry Little Minds down to a piece of advice passed from one parent to another, we can all play a role in changing children’s life stories from day one.