Oral language skills are critical for learning, and they matter now more than ever
Dr Ioanna, Bakopoulou, Lecturer in Psychology in Education, School of Education, University of Bristol
Capabilities such as vocabulary knowledge, narrative skills and active listening are foundational for young children’s learning. Developed both at home and in school, these capabilities are known as oral language. Oral language is essential for young children’s learning, in particularly their literacy development and their ability to access the curriculum.
Oral language skills have always mattered, but they matter now more than ever.
The Covid-19 pandemic has widened the already stubborn ‘language gap’, that is the difference between the language levels of children from poorer backgrounds vs their more affluent peers. Ofsted have raised concerns that children hit hardest are ‘regressing in basic skills and learning, including language, communication and oral fluency’1. Recent research found that 92 per cent of teachers think school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic have contributed to a widening of the ‘word gap’ and that 94 per cent found it challenging to support pupils’ vocabulary development while teaching remotely during the first national lockdown2.
The likely increase in the disadvantage gap highlights the importance of school-based, early language interventions. Support for oral language offers an important means by which we can address the injustices worsened by the pandemic.
Young children learn through play. That’s why it’s the basis for early education in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and many other countries around the world.
But with more and more young children now spending a lot of time in front of screens, a big question for many parents is whether time spent on touchscreens is good or bad for a child’s play and development.
Data shows British three- and four-year-olds spend around four hours a day on screen time – including at least one hour on games. And one worry is that screen time leads to poor outcomes for children.
For instance, the more young children watch television, the less sleep they get. There are also moderately higher rates of obesity in young children who watch television on weekdays compared to those children who do not. So one argument is that if children have more screen time, this could also displace the time young children spend playing, and hence learning.
Time well spent?
But that said, some research shows touchscreens have direct benefits for play itself. A study that followed a group of six preschoolers in their homes – covering a total of 17 hours of video footage – found the children showed 15 different types of play when interacting with touchscreen apps. They communicated, explored, and imagined, among other types of play. This suggests using touchscreen apps is play itself.
The children in the study also used apps as the basis for traditional play – for instance, by acting out the Netflix children’s series Paw Patrol in the real world. Research has also shown how apps can benefit preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. A study following four children found after playing with an app that encouraged pretend play, three of these children increased how much they pretended to be characters when playing with actual toys. This suggests apps could be used to teach children how to play more generally.
Experimental research also shows playing with apps can have positive benefits on learning. One study showed how a group of four- to six-year-olds played with the Tower of Hanoi task on a touchscreen app. This task involves figuring out how to move a stack of rings from one rod to another without ever putting a larger ring on a smaller ring. After children played the task on the touchscreen app, they were then able to solve the problem with a physical version of the task without any additional time needed. This shows how children can learn through play on a touchscreen app, and transfer that learning to the real world.
Another study found that when preschoolers were given maths and language apps they enjoyed engaging with, their scores on standardised maths and language tests improved. This shows that playing with engaging and fun apps can help children learn some of the fundamentals at school. Even two-year-olds can learn language through apps, with research finding young children learn new words through Skype, but not television.
Play and learning
It seems, then, the relationship between touchscreen apps and play is complex. On the one hand, perhaps playing with apps will displace traditional play, leading to lower levels of activity in young children. But on the other hand, based on the research to date, it seems playing with apps could actually encourage play and learning – provided the apps have appropriate content for this function.
That said, the research in this area is still limited, so our lab is now running studies to find out whether apps show benefits or limitations to children’s play. Anyone around the world with a one- to three-year-old can participate in our longitudinal online survey. And it is hoped that by collecting this data over time, we can not only see if there is a relationship between touchscreens and play, but we can also find out if touchscreen use predicts children’s play long term.
We are also running lab studies in Bristol, England, to see whether playing with touchscreen apps makes two- and three-year-olds more or less likely to play later on – and whether children can learn to play from apps. Parents can find more information and sign up here.
So, for any parents out there who are wondering how to handle screen time with their young children, based on the current research, I would say choose app content that looks like it will help your child play or learn, but be wary of letting your children play with apps for too long, particularly near bed time.
The author is keen to interview children’s app designers, daycare workers, and parents about apps and one- to three-year-olds. If you’re interested in being interviewed, email Elena Hoicka at firstname.lastname@example.org
Perhaps the central policy question for those of us studying education is: how can we raise levels of attainment? For long, the focus was almost solely on cognitive skills, but a line of recent research has looked at the interaction between such skills and non-cognitive factors (also called psychological traits), motivations, and culture in generating higher student achievement. Continue reading →
Around one in five children in the UK have been exposed to domestic violence or abuse between their parents or caregivers. When adults are involved in an abusive relationship, their children bear the consequences. Continue reading →
Dendy Platt examines the potential for the C-Change approach
Dendy Platt is a Senior Lecturer in Social Work, and Head of the Children and Families Research Centre, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol.
Social workers’ assessments of parental capacity to change are becoming increasingly important when working with children in need and children who may be at risk of maltreatment. Expectations from the courts regarding care proceedings in England have increased in the last couple of years, focusing particularly on better analysis in social work assessments, and better exploration of alternative courses of action for the child in question. Assessing the likelihood of a parent being able to make sufficient changes in their lives to ensure the child’s safety and wellbeing is a part of this analysis. And capacity to change is now included in the court report template from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services – requiring assessment of whether a parental capability gap can be bridged (http://adcs.org.uk/care/article/SWET).
I have to admit that I don’t normally listen to The Archers. And people don’t normally talk to me about the story lines. That all changed when the long running series began a story over 18 months ago which looked at the issue of domestic violence and coercive control. One of the most difficult things that victims/survivors of abuse tell us, and have consistently told us since the first women’s refuges in the 1970’s, is that it is the non-physical abuse they experience which is the most difficult to deal with [Williamson, 2000]. The bruises and other injuries victims suffer from physical abuse are visible. They are evidence to other people but also to oneself. There it is in black and blue. What is more difficult to prove and believe, is that someone who purports to love and care for you would bully, undermine, and manipulate you. The women I spoke too after the fact would either say, ‘how could someone treat me like that?’ or more often than not, ‘how could I let someone treat me like that?’ – still blaming themselves.
As the Archers storyline shows, this type of abuse is characteristic of a pattern of ‘low level’ abusive behaviours rather than the explosive incident people tend to think about when they consider ‘a domestic’. It involves small everyday things which result in people staying away, isolating victims from their family, friends, and networks of support. Recent research from Bristol has documented the massive impact of such abuse on friends and family [Gregory et al, 2016], as well as the evidence we know about the impact on victims [Mullender et al, 2005], their children [Mullender et al, 2002], and perpetrators themselves [Hester et al, 2015]. Doctors, the police, courts, social services, all tend to think of interventions in terms of those single incidents which means that the on-going manipulation of victims goes unnoticed.
British society is in serious need of higher levels of religious literacy. The potential for misunderstanding, stereotyping and oversimplification based on ignorance is huge – and schools have a big part to play in putting this right.
Religion has dramatically changed in Britain. Fewer people profess Christianity, more profess a post-Christian spirituality, humanism or atheism, while Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Jewish communities assert themselves in public and seek to play a role in shaping policies.
Yet the degree of understanding of these faith actors and of religion in general is low. The need for investment in religious literacy is one of the main themes of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life (CORAB), which has just published a report called Living With Difference – in which I was involved as a member of the steering group. As religious literacy and experience of diversity begins at school, we have recommended some changes to the place of religion in state education.
From personalised beer to racing driver experiences – a full range of gender stereotypical presents are available branded as perfect for Father’s Day. So, it might be tempting to see the growth of Father’s Day in the UK (June 21st this year) as little more than another marketing opportunity; one that doesn’t say much about everyday fathering and certainly doesn’t give the impression that we have radically changed our ideas about fathers.
“men who are doing things differently have a higher profile”
Looking back over the last 40 years of research on fatherhood, there is evidence that things are different now. We can point out generational shifts in how men ‘do’ fatherhood; dads have substantially increased the amount of time they spend with their children and almost all now attend births and take time off work when a baby is born. It is also the case that men who are doing things differently have a higher profile, witness for example of blogs of stay-at-home dads and single fathers. And these changes are reflected (to some extent) in policy as well. In April 2015, shared parental leave was introduced in the UK, signalling the possibility of greater father involvement in the immediate post-birth period. It also ensured that fathers have the right to time off work to attend antenatal appointments.
The report into the abuse and sexual exploitation of children and young people in Rotherham[i] whilst shocking, is not a surprise. The report comes in a long line of reports, inquiries, research, and reviews which are consistent in their findings. That victims have been ignored or not believed; that busy professionals have been unable (for a variety of reasons) to respond appropriately; that officials have not adequately prioritised the work of those on the front line; and that existing legislation is not being used even in cases where it could be, to tackle the sexual exploitation of children and young people.
As British actor Samantha Morton made clear in her recent interview, every incident of child sexual abuse is a life sentence for that individual, their families, and those around them.
A body of evidence has shown that screen-viewing (watching TV, using the internet, playing games consoles) is associated with adverse health effects such as increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity among adults. Recent research has also shown that screen-viewing is associated with adverse health effects among children and adolescents such as increased risk of obesity, higher cholesterol levels and poorer mental well-being. Collectively these findings indicate that there is a need to understand children and adolescent’s levels and patterns of screen-viewing among children and adolescents and identify ways in which the screen-viewing levels of children can be reduced. To date the bulk of this work has focussed on older-aged primary school aged children and adolescents with a lack of information about the screen-viewing patterns of younger children. This gap is important because previous work has shown that screen-viewing patterns are established in early life and then track through childhood into adulthood. Thus, there is a need to examine levels of screen-viewing among children at the start of primary school and the key factors that are associated with these patterns.