Early Words Together for multilingual families helps strengthen parental engagement at Woodston Primary School

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Since September 2018, Woodston Primary School in Peterborough have been taking part in Early Words Together for multilingual families. Early years teacher Alex Smith has been running the programme with reception children and their families. Pupils have improved their communication and confidence and parents are more engaged.

Early Words Together trains early years staff and volunteers to work with parents and children aged three to five from multilingual families. Over six weekly sessions in the classroom, parents build the confidence to support their child’s communication, language and literacy skills at home.

After completing the six weekly sessions, the reception teachers all agreed that they could see that the pupils who took part were more confident in the classroom. They showed real improvement in their vocabulary as well as confidence in engaging with their work and their peers, sharing their ideas and getting more involved.

The staff found that each time they started a six week session with a new group, the parents were initially reluctant to speak their home language. In the first of the six sessions, many of the parents wouldn’t even take their coats off. By the end of the six weeks, everyone was comfortable around each other, coats were off and other siblings were joining in the session. Parents also seemed much more comfortable around the school staff.

The staff saw a huge improvement in engagement with the sessions from both children and parents. Having the support of family and teachers in a small group setting made children feel more comfortable and confident about joining in and practicing their communication skills.

The sessions also helped parents to understand the importance of building vocabulary in the language they speak at home as well as in English.

Alex was able to bring other teachers on board with the programme by inviting them to watch or lead a session. The whole school was keen to support the programme as it was clear that it was helping to engage multilingual families in their children’s learning. It was also positive for parents to be introduced to more staff members and become more involved in the school.

Alex said: “Lots for our staff were happy to get involved with the programme because this project really engaged parents. One of our most important goals is to increase parental engagement and encourage them to support their children’s learning at home. It’s helped us to see that when we can get parents on board, the children are more likely to engage and succeed.”

The school ran its most recent courses before Christmas and in the summer term plan to explore ways in which the nature of the programme can help all reception children struggling with their literacy and communication, including those who don’t speak English as an additional language.