Early words together is a flagship programme for the National Literacy Trust, now adopted by local authorities across the country. It’s a volunteer-led peer tutoring programme where parents run short training sessions for other parents, modelling how to develop early learning and oracy, in preparation for school. It’s often delivered in Children’s Centres that focus on vulnerable families. The ideal is six sessions for groups of parents who each get 1:1 support from a volunteer while they play/work with their child. A trained teacher and EWT facilitator supervises.
I took part in one EWT session and talked about EWT in many of my meetings across England. It’s clear that there is a strong evidence base and the material available for centres and for parents is high quality. An important part of EWT is building the capacity of centre staff to work with families and there’s a whole support structure for professional development and support. At the session I attended, the volunteers love talking and playing to the kids and it was easy to see how they were building in vocab enrichment and how they encouraged children to participate and guided their play. Volunteers build up skills and can progress towards qualifications.
Coordination is essential. Sustaining a peer-support programme is a big challenge. A lot of time and energy has to go into attracting and retaining volunteers. The intention is to draw volunteers from among the vulnerable families, but regular attendance then becomes an issue- because their issues aren’t so different from other families (transport, sick kids, family responsibilities). If volunteers don’t turn up, centre staff have to step in, which has staff and funding implications.
And just from one session I can see the challenge of getting the volunteers to be explicit about what they are modelling to the adults and why. It’s like embedded literacy. The best practice makes the intention and purpose explicit.