Let’s Read Them a Story! The power of parents

All parents want to help their children learn, but parents sometimes feel unsure of the best way to help. New research shows that parents with relatively little time and no specialised knowledge can still support their children’s learning effectively.

Let’s Read Them a Story! The Parent Factor in Education, a 2013 OECD report shows that many parent-child activities linked with better reading performance among students involve relatively little time and no specialised knowledge. Key actions parents can take:

  • Reading books to children when they are just beginning primary school
  • Talking with teenagers about topical political or social issues
  • Reading themselves: When parents are interested in reading, children are more likely to be interested too.

The OECD research also highlighted that parental involvement in education is essential for the success of children throughout their school years and beyond.

Reading to children isn’t easy for everyone. Parents who are not confident readers may find it hard to help their children with reading; others may not know the importance of reading to children,particularly younger children. Growing Up in New Zealand: Now We Are Born (Morton S. et al, 2012), the second report in a longitudinal study of children born here in 2010, has found family differences in reading by the time the children were nine months old:

  • 16% of mothers and 38% of fathers in the study reported they seldom or never read to their babies at nine months of age, despite only 2% of parents saying they had no books in the home
  • 4% of mothers and 15% of fathers seldom or never sing or tell stories to their babies.

Helping parents develop reading confidence and skills is crucial if we want to break intergenerational cycles of low literacy.

What would it take to support all families and whānau to read, sing and tell stories more often to their children (including babies)?  Imagine what might happen if every child in the country had an adult read to them 10 minutes a day, every day of their preschool lives!  What would it take if we had storytellers and readers all over our communities so there was reading in parks, libraries, community centres, churches, marae?



Early Words Together

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.


The Learning Auckland Leadership Table met for the second time on February 26. The Table endorsed continuing membership in Strive Together, the network of 53 cities in the USA working to create effective ‘cradle to career’ education and skills pathways for all young people.  Membership of Strive enables Learning Auckland to draw on experienced collective impact initiatives focused on education change.

Table members reported back on ‘100 conversations in 100 days’, conversations each of them had with families, young people, educators and community leaders about what people believed to be the urgent issues for Auckland to address.

There were some powerful conversations that showed the lack of coherence in parts of system, and the enthusiasm and passion many people have for ensuring all young people succeed.  Over the next few months, we will use those conversations as the springboard for action.

On the basis of these conversations, plus the data and their own knowledge and experience, the Leadership Table identified early oral language (oracy) and school readiness as their first focus area for action towards Learning Auckland’s wider goals.

Early oral language underpins success in literacy – and oral communication is a fundamental life skill.  A focus on oracy and school readiness brings together families, early learning, health, child development, family-facing services and parent education.

Over the next few months we will be bringing together a cross-sector action group to plan and drive a systems response to support early oral language development for Auckland’s children and their families.

To learn more about Learning Auckland or the oracy work, please contact Alison Sutton Alison.Sutton@cometauckland.org.nz

For the full March 2015 newsletter, please click here.


Whānau Ara Mua, our own family learning programme is thriving. Last week 122 adults, mostly Maori and Pasifika students crossed the stage and received their qualification, a Level 2 Certificate in Family Learning and Child Development. The 80% graduation rate is a huge achievement for these tertiary priority learners, and a testament to the strong pastoral care provided by Solomon Group. It is wonderful to see how the programme has changed the lives of these students, and the lives of their families. Almost all participants are sole parents on benefits, who are looking to both better support their children and build their own employability and confidence.

I now understand some of the school curriculum and where my children should be for their learning age.

I am now making time for my children and we are now all spending more time with each other. We talk a lot about our problems or about what we did during our day; we also give my two year old son a chance to talk as well, which is great.

Whanau Ara Mua has given me and my family a brighter future

Next year Whanau Ara Mua expands to 220 places in 12 sites across the city. For information about the new sites or connecting learners to the programme, contact maree@solomongroup.co.nz

For the full November newsletter, please click here.


We all know that children are more likely to thrive in education when their parents support them and understand how the education system works. Parent engagement

As long-term advocates for family learning, the COMET Auckland team were delighted to see that many of the themes in our submission and in the submissions of our stakeholders to the Select Committee were reflected in the resulting report. You can read our full submission by clicking here and you can access the Parliamentary inquiry report here. That’s why we were pleased to see that a recent Select Committee inquiry report recommended cross-sector initiatives to encourage parents to get involved in their children’s learning. Policy changes needed if we are to promote and value family learning.

Whānau Ara Mua, Parents as First Teachers, Reading Together, and HIPPY are proven examples of family learning where parents are encouraged, supported and given the skills to support and engage with their kids’ learning.  What we need now is for programmes to connect up and to scale up to meet the need across Auckland.

For the full November newsletter, please click here.