Families of pupils at a Deighton school make a difference when it comes to children’s love of language and books. HAZEL ETTIENNE reports

READING is the key to learning at a Deighton school.

And literacy development worker Virginia Heyes-North has such a passion for books that she helps every child at Christ Church Woodhouse Junior Infant and Early Years School to unlock their own love of language and the spoken and written word.

Her task is not an easy one. This diverse school population includes children who speak 17 other languages in addition to English.

But an equally diverse series of projects, working with parents, pupils and staff ensure a successful outcome for its bright and articulate children.

“Families do really make a difference concerning a child’s love of language and books,” said Virginia.

“Our weekly family literacy sessions give children and their parents the chance to work together, encouraging, supporting and promoting reading and also giving families special time together in an often hectic home-work schedule.

“We want to promote the idea of parents as first educators, celebrate their families achievements and gets hands-on experience of the value of the work they are doing.”

Sessions including storytelling, puppet making and book making give pupils and their families the opportunity to learn how to tell stories in different ways and improve their speaking and listening skills.

Mum Jolene Lewis has been attending the year one session with her six-year-old twins Levell and Quanisha Lewis.

She also attended sessions for her 10-year-old daughter Natalia and is hoping to pass on the skills she has learned to her two-year-old son Louis Shaw.

Jolene said: “I have really enjoyed the sessions and learned skills to pass on to my children. It can be difficult encouraging boys to read, but Levell loves all the hands-on craft activities. I read with the twins at home and also attend the homework club as well.

Levell said: “ I love reading, especially information books about dinosaurs. We read at home together.”

Year one teacher Dot Lang said encouraging parents to come into school was always a positive thing.

She said: “The children value books and reading so much and it is inspiring that parents go home and do other activities with their children based on reading and have the confidence in the skills they have learned to do that.”

The school also has a thriving Reading Friends group, where trained volunteers read once a week with a couple of children sharing books and providing them with a range of reading skills to decode words.

An enthusiastic advanced year six reading group also read a book together each week, which they then discuss, review and give marks out of 10.

The wealth of experiences and cultures which children bring to Christ Church Woodhouse from other countries is celebrated, valued and shared.

Having lived and worked in another country, Virginia is well aware of the frustrations which not understanding a language can bring.

But the encouragement and support which she gives to the school’s children from asylum-seeking communities and its Kurdish, Arabic, Lithuania and Gambian children ensure they quickly become valued members of the school community.

Year six pupil Ernestas Mitkus and his year three brother Fernandas came to the school two years ago from Lithuania with little or no English.

Ernestas said: “I love books about dragons and especially PE. We do football, archery, canoeing and cheerleading. I am very happy here. I work hard on my reading and writing, but I need to improve my spelling. It is important that I do well, so when I get older I can fill in big forms for jobs.”

His brother Fernandas said: “I love computers and learning big words to write better sentences. My writing has really improved.”

The year six readers said: “We learn different skimming and scanning techniques. It helps us understand the text. When we sit our Sats it will help us with our comprehension.”