Early Words Together builds transformative relationships with parents in Bedford

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Balliol Primary School in Bedford has been taking part in the National Literacy Trust’s Early Words Together programme for multi lingual learners over the last three months. The programme, has greatly improved relationships with parents and pupils alike and has resulted in children being more confident in the classroom and families chatting, playing and reading together more often at home.

Early Words Together trains early years staff and volunteers to work with parents and children aged three to five from multi lingual families over six weekly sessions in the classroom, building parents’ confidence so that they can support their child’s communication, language and literacy skills at home.

A number of families were invited to participate, which included a mixture of some more confident families and some who were less so, in order for them to help one another.

Sandra Juziuk, Reception teacher at Balliol Primary School, saw a real difference to the school’s relationships with parents and pupils as the programme progressed. “These sessions gave me time and opportunity for those little chats that we always want to have with parents, but there is never enough time during our busy day,” explained Sandra. “It can be challenging engaging families who speak a variety of languages and come from all different cultures, but the programme really enabled me to understand their needs in depth and take steps to meet them in the classroom.”

For the staff at Balliol Primary School, one family stood out in particular. A pupil in reception, Michal, and his mum and two brothers attended all six Early Words Together sessions. Michal’s family moved to the UK from Poland five years ago and English has been a new skill for Michal since joining Balliol in September last year. Michal also has a slight hearing impairment which delayed his language development in Polish, making it even more of a challenge to pick up English.

Michal’s mum, Aleksandra, has a good understanding of English, but didn’t feel confident in her speaking abilities when the sessions began. “At the beginning of the course, Aleksandra wasn’t confident to initiate conversations, only responding if someone spoke to her, however it was apparent that she has a lovely relationship with her children and was very involved in all activities” said Sandra. As the sessions progressed she became more and more assured in her ability to communicate with other parents and began to speak to her children in English when chatting with them about stories. By her third session, Aleksandra was even helping other parents, both English and Polish speakers, to understand the activities and offer her own ideas.

The nursery practitioners also noticed Michal and his brother Patryk’s progress and confidence in speaking both Polish and English in the classroom. “This was a really significant and positive step forwards for both boys and we were all delighted to see this change developing.” explained Sandra. By the end of the programme, Aleksandra offered to be a volunteer herself to support other parents, as she had noticed such a positive change in her children who now want to chat and read more with her at home. Taking part in Early Words Together also inspired Aleksandra to become a volunteer at the school as well, helping young children who speak English as an additional language. What’s more, she is also hoping to complete a Level 2 Teaching Assistant course.

When reflecting on the programme as a whole, Sandra said: “It has been, and continues to be, a truly and utterly positive experience for everyone. So much so, families approached us, asking to stay on for another cycle. This is how we got our volunteers, who are now excelling at enabling other parents to improve their children’s literacy skills, having fun while doing it.“

Balliol Primary School was delighted with the way in which Early Words Together has helped families grow closer together while also supporting both parents and children to learn and gain confidence in their communication and reading skills.

With special thanks to the Harpur Trust, Panacea Trust and Wixamtree Trust for their support and funding for this programme.