The early years are critical for building foundations for learning and lifetime outcomes for all children, particularly those experiencing disadvantage. In Australia, 1 in 5 children start school behind and poorly equipped to benefit from the social and learning opportunities (AEDC, 2015). Early years services in disadvantaged communities lack resources and support to meet the need.
The project aimed to:
- develop a new early years training program and manual to equip volunteers with the skills, knowledge and confidence to build vulnerable children's literacy, play and language skills and engage parents in supporting their children's learning
- provide targeted support in early years services through skilled volunteers
- involve parents in programs and activities to increase their involvement and confidence in reading and oral literacy with their children
- improve vulnerable children's school readiness, oral language and early literacy skills, and
- promote positive role models and increase parent/community engagement through involvement of skilled community volunteers in early years services.
During 2015, the Project Reference Group (Ardoch staff, volunteers and early years leadership) reviewed existing programs and evaluations. We identified the need for academic expertise and worked with Professor Andrea Nolan (Deakin University), Professor Bridie Raban and Dr Louise Paatsch. They developed the consolidated program, facilitators/activities guides and Keeping Track framework. The program draws on the latest research on how best to support young children's language and literacy development.
The new training program was piloted with current early years volunteers working in Frankston, Geelong, Brimbank and inner Melbourne, to further develop skills and knowledge and engage them all in evaluation and development of the training program and manual.
The new program has been embraced by staff, volunteers and partner early years services and the detail and evidence supporting this approach is highly valued. In addition, potential funders, partners and government have provided positive feedback about the academic basis of the new program.
The program draws on the latest research on how best to support young children's language and literacy development in disadvantaged communities. It focuses on three development continua (Language, Reading and Writing) which complement each other and provide a holistic overview of childhood communicative and literacy development during the early years.
Ardoch provides targeted volunteer support for hundreds of vulnerable young children in partner early years services. The volunteers work with children to build early literacy/language skills through conversational reading, language activities and games. The program also enables volunteers to involve parents in programs/activities to increase engagement and confidence in supporting learning.
From Ardoch's 2015 evaluation: 100% of partner early years services reported that our programs contributed to improved learning/wellbeing outcomes and had a positive impact. 88% of volunteers felt they made a positive community contribution through the program and 82% felt they made a positive impact on children's learning/wellbeing.
This new evidence based volunteer training program is the core part of Ardoch's early years work will have a long-term impact, for children, families and communities. The program helps to improve vulnerable children's school readiness, language and early literacy skills in our partner early years services.
Ardoch's focus is on partnership working and collective impact. Any organisations and early years services that would like to learn more about the new Early Language and Literacy program, please contact: Adele Stowe-Lindner, Programs Manager.
If you are interested in early years volunteering, please visit the Ardoch Youth Foundation website for more information.
Author: Adele Stowe-Linder, Program Manager, Ardoch Youth Foundation
'Ardoch Youth Foundation has an impressive track record for working with and supporting volunteers. By training volunteers in strategies, activities and skills to provide individual support for young children to help build their school readiness, particularly in language and early literacy; this Early Language and Literacy Program will have a long-term impact, for children, families and communities enabling them to engage more fully in education and achieve their full potential. This meets well with the Foundation's objectives in Education.'
Nicole Bortone, Education Program Manager, The Ian Potter Foundation