This study reports on research undertaken as part of an ARC funded project that investigated ways of strengthening and supporting literacy practices in informal early childhood settings. For many children, particularly those from disadvantaged and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, informal playgroups represent their only engagement with prior to school learning experiences.
This paper will analyse the approaches and strategies that supported the development of children's early literacies in five government funded supported playgroups located in the eastern, inner west and greater western suburbs of Sydney. Each group was distinctively representative of diverse language and cultural groups in which many of the children were simultaneously acquiring their home language and English.
The theoretical framework for this study is informed by a sociolinguistic and sociological view of early literacy learning that highlights the importance of the play, home language and English. Within an ethnographic approach, researchers, as participant observers, worked closely with each of the playgroups over a year. Input was provided into the playgroup programs and a number of culturally and linguistically appropriate strategies were implemented.
Using data from observations, interviews with mothers and carers, playgroup workers, literacy specialists and community workers, and a follow up with a number of K-2 teachers, this research was able to capture the language maintenance challenges facing these families and highlight family literacy practices that may not be recognized fully in school settings.
The study findings highlight the value of providing opportunities to engage with children and families through play and talk, facilitating the use of both English and the home language, and the key role of bilingual songs, texts and stories. The importance of working with families and carers also emerged as a key theme. Together these aspects contributed to the engagement and involvement of children and families in the playgroup settings as they were able to draw on aspects of their cultural identity and their home language in literacy learning.
Acknowledging, addressing and representing cultural and linguistic diversity, remains of central importance in many early childhood education programs in informal settings and should be seen as an integral part of any focus on the development of children's early literacies.