Exclusive: Principal creates 'game-changing' reading program

by Brett Henebery08 Feb 2017

International research shows that the frequency of reading to children at a young age has a direct casual effect on their schooling outcomes regardless of their family background and home environment.

Recognising this, the University of Melbourne, along with the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, recently released a resource calledReading to Young Children: A Head-Start in Life’.
 
An equally powerful finding in the research was that children who are read to more frequently at age 4-5 achieve higher scores on the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests for both Reading and Numeracy in Year 3 (ages 8 to 9).

This prompted former Heathcote East Public School principal, John Walters, to create a revolutionary early-intervention resource, called Parent Assisted Immersive Reading (PAIR).
 
The program, which has been taken on by more than 200 schools across Australia so far, involves parents regularly reading aloud to their child while at the same time engaging them in meaningful conversation about the book. PAIR storybooks come with vital prompts, tips and questions that allow parents to effectively enrich each reading session.
 
“We like to say that PAIR was inspired by Finland, informed by world research and crafted in Australia,” Walters told The Educator.

“This resource is designed to support parents in their efforts to engage their child more deeply with picture books and to immerse them in a ‘language rich’ experience’.”

International research shows that ages 0-6 years are vital to the development of a child’s brain and, of their neural pathways. However, Walters pointed out that the development of some of these neural pathways begins to decline by age 6.

“The ‘building block’ period between ages 0 to 6 years, is critical in the development of many areas and include emotional control, binocular vision and of course, language and literacy,” he said.

“Research also demonstrates that ‘responsive engagement’ by parents during this early period plays an essential role in the development and stimulation of young brains. This should include, but not be limited to, reading aloud to the child, playing with them, singing with them, laughing and praising.”
 

‘A simple and cost-efficient process’

Walters said that international research “overwhelmingly demonstrates” that parents who are actively engaged with, and supportive of their child’s education, can have a hugely positive effect.

“We need look no further than Finland, a world leader in education for many years, to see the effects that strong parent support and trust of their schools, can have in elevating their learning to amazing levels,” he said.

“Considering all this and more, it stands to reason that if schools and governments can provide parents with appropriate support and strategies during these early critical years, then we can turn Australia’s sliding literacy results around. It is actually a very simple and extremely cost-efficient process.”
 

Potential for ‘a huge lift' in outcomes

Principal Glen Carter of Miranda Public School, located in NSW, told The Educator that when he saw what Walters had developed he was “immediately inspired”.

“This is a Home Reading program that provides the roadmap for parents so that they can actively engage in the learning process with their child at the critical learning stage,” Carter said.

“We talk about influences on children's learning and our parents are a huge mostly untapped resource.”

Carter said that PAIR engages parents in “a real way” and empowers them to be active participants in the very foundations of reading.

“This is a game-changer. The program not only builds strong connections between home and school, but also between parent and child. It would benefit every school across the country at both the preschool level and the first year of Primary,” he said.

“If we do this in a real measured way, we will see a huge lift in our Nation's Literacy results. Our parents want to be involved, but sometimes they don't know how, or if it's the right way to help their child.”

At the first day of Kindergarten, Carter said he announced to the parents that they all had homework for the next 8 weeks, adding that they were excited and keen to start. 

“Engaging our parents early will help to build a powerful connection right through their child's schooling,” he said.

“The PAIR Program is a great way to build the capacity of your community, to switch on a powerful resource that will greatly benefit every child. PAIR should be in every Primary School in this country.”
 

Related stories:
PISA results: Australia falls behind in reading
Leading charity makes call to action for parents, principals
‘Complacency’ killing Australian education
 
 

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