Research School Network: The Magic of Emerging Literacy in the Early Years By Ali Carrington, Early Years Consultant

The Magic of Emerging Literacy in the Early Years

By Ali Carrington, Early Years Consultant

by Somerset Research School
on the

Ali Carrington

Ali Carrington

Early Years Consultant

Ali has over 25 years experience in the early years sector as a Nursery/​Reception teacher, Early Years Leader, Local Authority Consultant supporting schools, PVI settings and Children’s Centres and Specialist Leader in Education for Communication, Language and Literacy.

She is passionate about children’s early language development and inspiring environments, practitioners and practice that ignites a lifelong love of learning through play. Ali is currently working at St Pauls Nursery School which is an outstanding setting and leads on Communication, Language and Literacy, delivering bespoke support and training regionally. She is delivering a research CPD project in partnership with the EEF and the Bristol & Beyond Stronger Practice Hub centred on phonological awareness called Soundplay- Ready for Reading.

Read more aboutAli Carrington

Guest Blog

How do we crack the literacy code with brain magic?

The EEF’s Preparing for Literacy: Improving Communication, Language and Literacy in the Early Years Guidance Report

The journey to becoming a reader and writer is complex. Were a 3 year old to have the vocabulary to put this journey into words, it would be fascinating to gain their insight at the point of literacy immersion.

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EEF Preparing for Literacy Recommendations poster

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The guidance report suggests lever points’ where there is useful evidence about communication, language and literacy teaching that educators can use to support a young learner. Communication and talk are the bedrock alongside supporting motivation, capability, self-regulation, home learning, a balanced approach, assessment and targeted support at the point of struggle.

All of this, in a playful package to appeal to a young, developing brain (and body).

Were a 3 year old able to explain which bits of this journey were fun and meaningful and which bits were just what adults ask us to do, educators would gain a valuable insight. Perhaps then, teaching would be a bit different. What is hidden behind the fun in singing songs and rhymes, sharing a book and talking about What’s happening in the pictures? What about those squiggly lines when a pen is held and moved over paper? What is this and what is it for? Tiny, strange shapes in a line on a page that an adult points to at storytime. What is that?

Recommendation 2 of the EEF guidance

Develop children’s early reading using a balanced approach

Recommendation 2 of the EEF guidancestates Promising approaches to develop early reading include storytelling, activities to develop letter and sound knowledge, and singing and rhyming activities to develop phonological awareness.’

Tuning children’s ears to sounds, letters and words will support later reading and writing but do children know this? For many children this is exciting, playful and fun. For some, they would rather be tackling the monkey bars. Perhaps if we were explicit about the magic code they were learning, these children might be more motivated. A tuned in practitioner could make it clear that playing with sounds is the beginnings of learning to read and write, that the marks made in play are the beginnings of being able to communicate messages, ideas and feelings that others can make sense of. Now that, is magic and our brains (and bodies) are learning how to do this, right now in the sand (or at snacktime/​storytime).

EY Photo

Section 8: Developing a reading for pleasure culture from DFE’s Reading framework states that It is impossible to mandate that pupils read for pleasure, but teachers can inspire pupils and engage them in reading widely.’ Educators are hugely influential and significant in children’s lives and they should know them, and their families well. Every child’s family story and experience of the world so far is unique and for some this may mean that there is little book experience. The 3 year old with limited literacy experience will need to know what books are and how magic they can be so that they can experience this pleasure culture for themselves. This is the magic code starting to unlock.

Evidence based Approaches can be used flexibly to match developmental needs and encourage emerging interests and understanding of very young children.

EEF Evidence Store-Early Literacy EEF | Early Literacy (

A toolkit of stories, songs and rhymes is usually to hand for educators in an early years classroom. Brushing up storytelling skills, playing with sounds and words with planned intent (and telling children what this is for) will support young learners to get ready for literacy and buy in to the magical nature of being a reader and writer for themselves.

Early Years
The EEFs Early Years Evidence Store

Educators can be well supported by the EEF’s resources focused on:

  • Interactive reading
  • Teaching sound discrimination
  • Teaching sound manipulation
  • Teaching sound-letter mapping

The evidence store provides film clips of educators in action which could inspire further ideas.

Early childhood should be full of magic and wonder. Learning new things and exploring the world is deserved by all children whatever their personal history on the planet so far. Educators who remember this and tune in to the brains (and bodies) of these young learners will be able to ignite a love of reading and writing. Cracking the literacy code could be a collaborative adventure, shared and enjoyed as part of the learning journey of life.

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