Language and Literacy in the Early Years – by Marian Whitehead

This fourth edition of Whitehead’s book updates both research on early language development and best practice in Early Years settings.  Regular summary boxes encourage reflection and simplify the location of strategic points, whilst key arguments are amply supported with examples from professional practice.  It also demonstrates the range of skills that young children possess for handling language interactions in social settings and their intentionality in speaking, mark making and communicating.

Section one examines recent growth in knowledge about linguistics, language in social settings, early language acquisition and the part that language plays in thinking.  The consideration of the role of multilingualism in early language acquisition is a particular strength of this section.  The argument for welcoming varied languages and cultures into early years settings is persuasively made.  Of equal strength is the analysis of a language interaction between a toddler and her parents in the light of contemporary understanding.

The two sections of this book are skilfully tied together as section two describes the world of the young child in storying, books and writing.  But each topic is also firmly tied to the learning context by describing ways in which the world of the child can be brought into the most formal curriculum through understanding how children create narrative.  The chapter on narrative and storying is particularly inspirational with its glimpse into the magical worlds of early learners.

This book should be read by all those involved in Early Years settings, in order to understand the moral imperative of creating environments which recognise the uniquely individual social and cultural experiences that young children bring to formalised learning.  The greatest strength of this text is the ability of the writer to annexe complex research to the compelling need for the practitioner to understand how young children both make meaning and use language to make new meaning as they learn to communicate in a range of modes.

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