It comes as no surprise to many of us working in schools to see reports that children are struggling in school with undeveloped basic language skills.

The Times reported that in England (and why should it be any different in Scotland?) children are starting primary school with a speaking age of just 18 months and the number unable to form simple sentences is rising, according to the Government’s first speech chief.

The next generation lack basic speaking skills because parents now spend less time talking to their children over family meals or reading bedtime stories, Jean Gross told The Times on the eve of her appointment as communications champion.

Her comments come as the latest government figures indicate that 18 per cent of children aged 5 (more than 100,000) fail to meet the expected level of speech for their age.

rhyme bookThis ties in with another report I read some time ago that parents seemed to regard nursery rhymes as ‘too old fashioned’ for 21st century children. The Herald reported that nursery rhymes are losing ground in Britain’s affections with many parents finding them too old fashioned and of no educational value. Only a third of more than 2,500 parents surveyed use nursery rhymes regularly with their children, while almost a quarter admit they have never sung a rhyme with their child. The poll, for National Bookstart Day, also found more than a fifth of young parents did not use nursery rhymes because they were not considered educational.

Apart from the sheer delight of singing together and the enrichment of language, it is well established that singing and generating rhymes is an essential precursor to the acquisition of literacy.

So it was very refreshing to hear the BBC reporting on Calls for lessons to begin at six .

nursery1The Cambridge Primary Review recommends that children should continue the kind of play-based learning that features in nursery schools and reception classes. Most children start primary school in England aged four.

Most parents and workers in early year’s settings know intuitively that formal school starts far too early in the UK for most children, unlike the much lauded Scandinavian countries for example. Of course there are youngsters who are ready for learning in large group settings; even some who can adjust from situational to symbolic representations (such as learning phoneme-grapheme correspondence) at an early age.

But many (at the risk of being called sexist, we may say that the majority of whom are boys) would benefit enormously from an extended period in a more playful learning environment. I see much wonderful active experiential learning in many classes in primary schools nowadays but nowhere nurtures individual needs better than an environment with a small child-to-adult ratio and an emphasis on play.