Message regarding Early Reading Together® from Jeanne Biddulph

Note: The following message was written at the request of the New Zealand Ministry of Education for the Early Reading Together® Briefing Meetings.

Sometimes people ask why I developed Early Reading Together® and Reading Together® in the early 1980s and why we, as a family, financed and supported both programmes for so long. The answers to these questions are many and varied, and beyond the scope of this message. Fundamentally though, Early Reading Together® and Reading Together® are driven by a strong commitment to social justice, fairness, equity, opportunities and choices for all children and families/whānau.

My experiences as an educator in New Zealand, the Solomon Islands and the Cook Islands showed me that well-intentioned, but uninformed parental involvement, frequently has a negative impact on children's learning, and particularly on children's reading development. However, I also knew that when educators, librarians and others work in collaborative, mutually-respectful and evidence-based partnerships with parents and whānau, there are significant and sustained benefits for the children and adults involved - hence my decision to develop Reading Together® and then Early Reading Together®.

The benefits of Early Reading Together® have been demonstrated across diverse families, ECE services, schools and libraries since 1983. The positive impact of Early Reading Together® is also evident in the 'word of mouth' dissemination of the programme throughout New Zealand, and the extent of voluntary 'spare time' implementation of the workshops.

Educators, librarians and others who implement Early Reading Together® do so because they believe in it; they know that it works; that it's non-threatening and manageable for busy people, and that it has multiple benefits for participants. They value the evidence base of the programme, and they are motivated - and also humbled - by the positive responses and gratitude of the parents and whānau.

PlunketFor example, in 2014 Jane Denley, Community Services Leader, Mid and South Canterbury Plunket sent me the following unsolicited feedback:

I have submitted a small write up about how we have enjoyed delivering your programme, how we have had fantastic support from the Early Childhood centres to do this and the very positive feedback we have received from the families that have completed the programme, for our Plunket e-connections magazine which is circulated throughout the country to staff and volunteers. I hope this will generate some interest from my peers and others and encourage them to learn more about your fantastic resource.

There is clear evidence that educators, librarians and others who read and understand each section of the Workshop Leader's Handbook and follow the step-by-step processes carefully, implementing each workshop as intended and adopting the required timeframes, are able to maintain the integrity of Early Reading Together®. The result is that the programme is effective, enjoyable and worthwhile for the families, educators, librarians and others involved, and Early Reading Together® then becomes a sustainable component of the language and literacy programmes which ECE services, schools, libraries and other organisations provide for their communities.

It is important that those who lead and support the Early Reading Together® workshops value the positive things that happen, and avoid feeling disappointed or guilty if some parents do not respond immediately and fully. It takes time to engage 'harder to reach' parents. Those who face serious issues in their daily lives may never be able to respond as you might hope, but you have provided an opportunity for them to do so, and some may be able to participate in Early Reading Together® at a later stage.

I would like to acknowledge the support of Dr Sarah Alexander, Chief Executive of ChildForum [in 2021, this changed to Chief Advisor of the Office of Early Childhood Education], who has endorsed Early Reading Together® and actively encourages early childhood educators to implement the programme to support the language and literacy learning of ECE children. Others who have provided much appreciated support in recent years include: Adam Rivett, former Principal of Waimate Main School, South Canterbury who worked with Jane Denley and others to establish the Parenting Hub – Waimate Family Centre, and Lisa Deane, DP of Fairfield Primary School, Hamilton.

I would also like to acknowledge the critical role which Graeme Marshall, John Good and Dr Adrienne Alton-Lee have played in securing the support which the New Zealand Ministry of Education is now providing for Early Reading Together®. The Ministry of Education support is an unexpected opportunity to extend the benefits of the programme to many more families, ECE services, schools, libraries and communities than would otherwise be possible.

And finally, I want to thank you for your interest in Early Reading Together®. I hope that you will enjoy implementing the workshops as much as others do, and that you will find your experiences satisfying and rewarding.

Jeanne Biddulph

Posted: Friday 21 July 2017