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How I make the most of early years (2):

Listen with Lucy

developed the Attention and Listening in the Early Years programme, or Listen with Lucy as it is known locally in Shropshire, having heard concerns from teachers and heads of local schools that an increasing number of children were entering their reception classes without adequate attention, listening and language skills for accessing the National Curriculum. This was reflected in a national survey of head teachers by the National Literacy Trust (2001). At the time, there were already many settings in North Shropshire running the SALLEY (Structured Activities for Language and Literacy in the Early Years) programme (Boucher et al., 2002) for children aged 3 years and up. However, at the time I was working for a Sure Start programme, and realised that I was in the ideal position to set up an initiative which facilitated the development of childrens attention skills from a much younger age. Sessions run by Sure Start, like many early years sessions, included a circle time. I wanted the programme I developed to be sustainable by the staff, so decided my best option would be to develop something they could use as an alternative to the traditional story or rhyme time. As a community speech and language therapist I already had activities I used when working with individual children with attention difficulties. When considering the actual content of the programme, I simply put these into a group format. I also added song and a puppet (Lucy the lop-eared rabbit) to gain the childrens interest and to help make the session fun. Listen with Lucy is designed to be run as an alternative to the traditional circle-time group. It includes a story in the form of a theme such as The Farm or A Day at Home, and rhymes and songs, all of which are excellent attention and listening activities in their own right. However, in a Listen with Lucy group, the children are taken beyond the stage at which these commonly used circle-time activities are sufficient to stretch their skills, and carefully devised adjustments are made to the songs as well as listening activities and games.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then Sharon Garforth will begin her tale of how Listen with Lucy training for early years practitioners in Shropshire is impacting on attention and listening skills in children under four.

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A strong foundation

The group uses the same general format for each session, therefore taking advantage of routine, repetition and familiarity to aid the childrens learning. Within that format the group leader presents many of the activities we are so familiar with, aimed at teaching the children the basics of good listening, such as to look at who is talking, think about the words, be quiet, and sit still. The early years practitioner has often not come across this idea of breaking the skill of listening down into these constituSharon Garforth ent parts. However during their training they soon take the new ideas on board, and learn to promote them during the group and generally in the classroom. The result is a significant effect on the early years practitioners ability to gain the attention of their class and of individuals, and therefore their ability to nurture the development of the childrens skills in listening and concentrating. Of course, if the early years practitioners are supporting the childrens attention skills, they are also developing a strong foundation for all areas of learning for that child, including learning to communicate. I give the bulk of the training during weekly visits over a period of about 10 weeks (a term). Each week the same group of children takes part in a Listen with Lucy session which is run initially by myself (about three weeks),

then jointly by myself and the early years practitioner (about three weeks), and finally (for the last few weeks) solely by the early years practitioner. By the final week the practitioner has gained sufficient skills not only to run the group independently, but also to begin to create their own themes for future Listen with Lucy sessions. I tend to give hands-on training to only one practitioner within the setting, so that at least one person gets sufficient instruction, but I encourage the setting to allow a second practitioner to sit in and receive a more indirect schooling. This has the advantage that the second person can take over during training should the named practitioner be unable to attend a session; also it is advisable for each setting to have more



than one member of staff trained to support sustainability of the programme within the setting once the training is complete. I encourage the two trained members of staff to pass on their skills to further colleagues wherever possible. Over the 10 weeks of training a setting, it is both enjoyable and rewarding to see the early years practitioners progress. They go on from the nerves and uncertainties of learning the aims, skills and methods for running this type of group, to become confident, proficient and often inventive Listen with Lucy group leaders. Some practitioners need more support than others to achieve this, but I am continually and regularly bowled over with the creative and intuitive talent demonstrated by local early years staff - and by their entertaining and accomplished puppetry skills, at times far better than my own! Caroline Bowers (Oswestry Methodist Preschool) created her own Listen with Lucy session with the theme of The Seaside and came up with the following song as part of that (sung to the tune of What shall we do with the drunken sailor?): The rain came down and the tide came up The rain came down and the tide came up The rain came down and the tide came up And the sand came tumbling down Caroline prepared the children beforehand by telling them (and showing them how) to listen out for the words up and down in the song, and use their hands to make the up and down movements as appropriate. At the end of the song you can add further random ups and downs (for example up, down, down, up) to encourage the children to extend their abilities to listen and look. Viv Holloway (Cockshutt Playgroup) devised a session using the theme of Going to School especially for children about to start at the local nursery. It included an activity where all the children were given a musical instrument. She then talked about the different clocks which the children would hear in and around the nursery school while demonstrating different volumes of ticking sound and encouraging the children to listen and join in with their instrument thus: What does the clock in the school say?... Tick tock tick tock tick tock (medium volume) What does the clock in the class say?... Ticka ticka ticka (Quiet volume) What does the clock in the church say?... Tock tock tock (Loud volume) Figure 1 Self-assessment results from an early years setting

Before and after

I evaluate the training with a questionnaire which requires the early years practitioners to make subjective decisions about the childrens attention skills along a simple continuum in three situations: one-to-one with a member of staff; in a small group with a member of staff leading; and in a whole class situation with a

member of staff leading. The questionnaire is completed by the main early years practitioner being trained. This is done both before the 10 week course and again after the 10 weeks for comparison. Over the past 3 years, the 12 settings trained in the north of Shropshire all showed good progress in the attention skills of the groups of children involved, as illustrated by the results from one of the settings (figure 1). These graphs show that, in the opinion of the practitioners who have run Listen with Lucy, as a group, the childrens attention skills were increased post-group, compared to pregroup, in all three situations. I use a second evaluation form to ask the main practitioner to give their opinion about the training and the programme itself. Feedback has been universally positive, with comments on the programme including: I realised (during the training) what listening really entailed

it gave us a chance to see how important good listening can be the children will [following the programme] sit longer for tasks, activities and story time, allowing them to get more out of the sessions there was a significant improvement in [the childrens] concentration and listening skills. Following the programmes success and popularity within Sure Start sessions, and a request from an Area Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo), my manager and I decided that I should offer the training to early years practitioners outside the realms of Sure Start, in local preschools. This training went on to attract a number of settings, across the north of the county at first. The programme was also supported and promoted by Development Officers and Childrens Centre Area Teachers from the early years team who had noticed how well Listen with Lucy works with Letters and Sounds, a



Department of Children, Schools and Families initiative. A waiting list of settings wanting to be trained began to develop. More speech and language therapists and Sure Start Childrens Centre Services staff were trained as trainers, and the training of early years practitioners continues to this day across the whole of Shropshire. Also, of two Every Child a Talker (ECAT) consultants working in the county of Shropshire, one has made Listen with Lucy training mandatory for her 20 settings, and the other consultant has offered the programme as an option to the settings in her area. they will be using control groups to control for development of attention skills due to factors other than attendance at a Listen with Lucy group. Also, the Shropshire Councils Early Years team plan to track the children who have attended a Listen with Lucy group to the Foundation Stage to measure outcomes. After about a year of running the programme, when I became aware of the growing success and popularity of Listen with Lucy, I began to believe that speech and language therapists and early years practitioners beyond the borders of Shropshire might also find the programme useful. Consequently I approached my managers about having the manual for the programme published. They were happy for me to do this so I set out to search for a publisher through the internet, and two years later the manual which I had already written to train practitioners in Shropshire was accepted by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. There was a fair amount of work required to make the manual into a publishable book, not least the lengthy copyright searches required. But finally Attention and Listening in the Early Years (Garforth, 2009) was out, and 250 copies were sold in the first 2 months. I hope this article will give you a taste of what Listen with Lucy involves and that, if you decide to run the programme, you find it a useful tool for supporting children to develop their listening and attention skills, and an effective resource for training early years practitioners on your patch.

Services, Shropshire, whose support and enthusiasm regarding the Listen with Lucy programme has been invaluable. Thanks also to my colleagues in Early Years who have inspired and supported the programme throughout.


Effective and enjoyable

Speech and language therapists whom I have trained to run Listen with Lucy have fed back that the programme is both effective and enjoyable to run. Some of these therapists have gone on to train early years settings themselves, and one introduced Listen with Lucy into a language group at a Child Development Centre. From my own experience, the strengths of the Listen with Lucy programme are that It is easily achievable and sustainable for the early years settings. This is because it is relatively straightforward for early years practitioners to learn how to run the group. It does not require them to learn a whole new set of skills from scratch but instead to build on skills which they often already have, such as storytelling, and singing songs and rhymes. Also most settings already run a circle-time at some point in the day, so replacing this regularly with a Listen with Lucy session helps their new training fit neatly into their daily routine; It is versatile in that it can be used to facilitate the attention skills of all children of the targeted age in a preventive way, or be used with children with diagnosed attention difficulties; The training which early years practitioners receive often spills over into other practice, not just while they are running the group, so that promoting good listening becomes more of a priority throughout the day and consequently supports all other learning situations; It is a programme which, in the fun way it is delivered using songs, games and a puppet, is generally popular with practitioners and children alike; and of course, for the children in particular, learning is more effective if it is fun. Although I have already been evaluating the programme, the present method does not take into account the effect of any other activities for facilitating good listening skills which the setting may already be practising. Consequently, further evaluation is planned in order to be sure of the specific effectiveness of the Listen with Lucy programme. With this in mind, the speech and language therapy service will be evaluating, across the county, all new settings to be trained between January 2010 and January 2011. This time, in the interest of making the evaluation more robust,

Boucher, B., Hurd, A. & McQueen, D. (2002) SALLEY: Structured Activities for Language and Literacy in the Early Years. Birmingham: Questions Publishing Company. Garforth, S. (2009) Attention and Listening in the Early Years. London: Jessica Kingsley. National Literacy Trust (2001) Early Years Language Survey of Head Teachers. London: NLT. Available at: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/talktoyourbaby/ survey.html. (Accessed: 21 January 2010).


Every Child a Talker (ECAT), see http:// nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/ node/153355. Letters and Sounds: Principles and practice of high quality phonics, see http:// nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/ node/84969

Sharon Garforth is a speech and language therapist seconded by the Telford and Wrekin Primary Care Trust to Shropshire Council Sure Start Childrens Centre Services. Please contact Sharon by e-mail sgarforth@live.co.uk if you are interested in the training.

Reflections Do I react in a practical way to concerns raised by other professionals? Do I think about what will help to make a new programme sustainable? Do I make learning fun for everyone?
Do you wish to comment on the impact this article has had on you? Please see guidance for Speech & Language Therapy in Practices Critical Friends at www. speechmag.com/About/Friends.


My thanks go to all my colleagues in the paediatric speech and language therapy department of the Telford and Wrekin PCT, and those at the Sure Start Childrens Centre

Jessica Kingsley Publishers is offering Sharons book at a discounted rate to readers of Speech & Language Therapy in Practice. To order a copy of Attention and Listening in the Early Years at the special Reader Offer price of 18.99 (no p+p), visit www. jkp.com and enter the following promotional code - gar0241. See also the review on p.21.