Focusing on aspects of good literacy practice

This section is based on information from the remaining six services and focuses on particular aspects of literacy practice, drawing on practice from one or more of these services.

Who are the services?

Barnardos Early Learning Centre – Eastbourne

Barnardos Early Learning Centre - Eastbourne in Lower Hutt is jointly owned and maintained by Barnardos and the Eastbourne Community Childcare Group. The service provides mixed-age education and care from birth to five year old children. At the time of ERO’s visit, 29 children were enrolled (52 percent boys, 48 percent girls). New Zealand European/Pākehā make up 72 percent of the roll, Māori 10 percent, Dutch seven percent, with Greek, Indian, and Japanese making up the remaining 11 percent.

The service has six teachers, three who are qualified and registered ECE teachers. Another two teachers are studying towards ECE qualifications. The service’s philosophy supports child-directed learning, and literacy teaching and learning often occurs in the context of child-initiated projects

Nelson South Kindergarten

Nelson South Kindergarten operates under the constitution and philosophy of the Nelson Kindergarten Association. At the time of ERO’s visit the kindergarten had 76 children enrolled (68 percent boys, 32 percent girls), with 61 percent of the roll New Zealand European/Pākehā, 14 percent Māori, five percent Pacific, and a variety of other ethnicities made up the remaining 20 percent.

The teaching team of six qualified teachers brings a range of experience and knowledge to their work. They share a commitment to keeping up to date with current research and a passion for literacy teaching. Teachers have a good understanding of research and theory, what it means for their practice, and the ability to put new learning into practice. The culture of the kindergarten is one in which teachers are open to new ideas and ‘giving things a go’.

Richmond Kindergarten

Richmond Kindergarten in Nelson operates under the constitution and philosophy of the Nelson Kindergarten Association. At the time of ERO’s visit, 49 children were enrolled (51 percent boys, 49 percent girls). New Zealand European/Pākehā were 80 percent of the roll, Māori were 10 percent, Pacific four percent, and other European ethnicities made up the remaining six percent. The kindergarten operates under an all‑day licence.

The kindergarten has a stable, qualified and experienced teaching team. Teamwork is a strength of the kindergarten and individual strengths are also well used. Teachers have a common and agreed focus that places importance on supporting children’s physical and associated brain development. They are very aware of how this focus supports children’s literacy learning, particularly the value of gross and fine motor skill development in helping children with skills for writing. They believe that it is important for children to be physically active and this has benefits for them as learners.

Strathmore Kindergarten

Strathmore Kindergarten is located in Whakatane and is administered by the Central North Island Kindergarten Association. The kindergarten caters for 40 children aged from two years to school age. It provides a six-hour session, four days a week and a 4¼ hour session on Wednesdays. The kindergarten employs four qualified early childhood teachers and an administrator. At the time of ERO’s visit, 42 children were enrolled (57 percent girls, 43 percent boys). 1 Fifty-four percent of children enrolled identified as Māori, 31 percent as New Zealand European/Pākehā, nine percent from South East Asian ethnicities, and the remaining six percent Indian.

The head teacher’s leadership is inclusive and uses team strengths to continue to improve learning and teaching. Self review is well established. Teachers take responsibility for term reviews that are focused on improving the environment for children.

The kindergarten philosophy recognises the importance of children learning through play and active exploration. Children are encouraged to become independent and responsible, and to care and respect themselves, others and the environment.

Taikura Rudolf Steiner Kindergarten – Hastings

The Taikura Rudolf Steiner Kindergarten is one of three kindergartens in the Hawkes Bay affiliated to Taikura Rudolf Steiner School, Hastings. Children can attend the kindergarten from the age of three and transition to the Rudolf Steiner School in their seventh year. At the time of ERO’s visit, the kindergarten had 27 children enrolled (52 percent girls, 48 percent boys). New Zealand European/Pākehā children made up 89 percent of the roll, Māori nine percent, with the remaining two percent from other ethnicities.

The Rudolf Steiner philosophy underpins the programme design and implementation, the development of the environment, and the way adults and children interact. This philosophy strongly influences the way literacy is defined, understood and practised in this service. The service has four registered teachers and two teachers in training.

Literacy was a strategic focus for the three Steiner kindergartens and the associated Steiner school in 2008. Through self-directed research teachers deepened their understanding of literacy in a Steiner context and helped them to further develop how they documented children’s learning.

Totara Hill Montessori

Totara Hill is a small rural service located on the outskirts of Matakana, north of Auckland. At the time of ERO’s visit, 28 children aged from three years to school age were enrolled (64 percent boys, 36 percent girls). Children identifying as New Zealand European/Pākehā made up 86 percent of the roll, and Māori the remaining 14 percent. The service is co-owned by two qualified early childhood teachers.

The service is purpose built in natural materials. Features include a large entry area where teachers greet the children and their parents. An adjoining kitchen is set up for parents who stay. The classroom is spacious, well presented and resourced. The outdoor space provides many opportunities for bush walks and exploring the natural world. The service philosophy is Montessori-based and includes a strong emphasis on children being respectful and caring towards others.

Examples of practice in six services

Written literacy

Nelson South Kindergarten

The Nelson Kindergarten Association conducted a survey of parents of children enrolled in 2008. The findings of this survey highlighted, for Nelson South Kindergarten, a lack of awareness by parents of literacy learning in the programme. Although teachers thought they were providing lots of opportunities for children to develop literacy knowledge and skills, the survey findings caused them to relook at their programme. They decided to make practices and learning more visible in all aspects of literacy, especially in written language.

Children at the kindergarten are familiar with written texts such as lists, letters, words and names. They have many opportunities to recognise and explore the letters that make up their name. A sign-in table, alongside where parents sign in their child, includes sign-in sheets specifically developed for children to use. The location of the table encourages parents to sit with their child while they sign in. The kindergarten also has magnetic letters for children to use to make their names and other words. Children are encouraged to write their name on their paintings and other work they have created.

Recognising Symbols

Grace* was observed writing her name and using what appeared to be Japanese symbols. The teacher asked Grace’s mother to write Grace’s name in Japanese on her write on / wipe off name card as a model. Grace could now write her name in English or Japanese according to her choice. (*name changed)

Teachers use lists of children’s names or encourage children to use lists as a way of signalling they are waiting for a turn at an activity. For example, in preparation for a dramatic retelling of the Three Billy Goats Gruff the children wrote their name alongside the character they wanted to be. The teacher had the story book, turned the pages, and recalled the story with the children. The three billy goats waited for their cue from the group of children who were the audience. There were discussions between actors and the children about how they might be feeling and how they could act this out. The story concluded and the children who had been in the audience and waiting for a turn, took on the roles, while the previous actors became the audience.

Diaries, large pieces of paper, clipboards, pens, pencils, and chalk are available in different places in the environment for children to draw maps and plans, make books, menus, signs and appointments. Children use these writing materials independently and with guidance in their play. For example, assessment information showed how one child had chairs lined up for patients to sit on. The child was using a notebook to write notes about each patient. One of the teachers was also invited by the child to act as scribe, recording some of the prescriptions.

Being architects

A teacher is sitting with some boys who are using clipboards and pens to draw plans. The teacher guides the boys in drawing their designs – “What do you want to happen? Close your eyes and see the picture in your head. Can we draw it?” When the boys have finished their designs they sign them as “this is what architects do”. Then the boys make their designs in the sandpit, with the teacher encouraging them to refer back to their plans.

Children are encouraged to explore letters kinaesthetically, such as writing letters in the sand, with dough, and with water. The children also explore letter writing in their paintings.

Links are made between home and the service in many ways. The children take turns taking Tidy Teddy and his book home. With their parents/whānau, they write a story, draw a picture, and/or use photos to share their adventures with Tidy Teddy.

Strathmore Kindergarten

Teachers at Strathmore Kindergarten provide many and varied opportunities for children to engage in written literacy. The environment gives the children many opportunities to develop their literacy learning in their play. Spacious, inviting and well resourced writing areas are in both the indoor and outdoor areas. Wall displays in literacy areas include letter charts and high frequency words, often in English and Māori. Examples of children’s writing, learning stories, and photos of children involved in literacy are also displayed.

Maxwell’s Wooden Letters

Maxwell made an M for his name out of pieces of wood nailed together at the carpentry table. His interest was extended by a teacher who encouraged him to make other letters like E for his friend. The next day, he made all the seven letters to spell out his name.

Teachers write books with children about their interests. Children and teachers identify an interest and take photographs. They then make up a story together about the photos. The book also contains the children’s reflections about their learning. The books are in the children’s library/book area and are often referred to by children. This process also incorporates visual literacy as the children learnt a lot about photos by viewing and discussing these with the teacher. The children understand how they can improve their photos, and which ones to select to use for a learning story.

Children take turns to lead group-time at the end of the session. They put their names on the group leader board. They also plan their group time with the teacher or a parent. This may involve children writing a programme that itemises the songs and stories for the session. The leader may lead the karakia, songs and stories, or ask others to carry out these responsibilities.

Teachers have well equipped teacher-only writing kits to support literacy in the indoor and outdoor areas. These kits ensure the most appropriate materials, such as a variety of pens and pencils, and paper 2 are available to extend children’s literacy learning,

Oral literacy

Taikura Rudolf Steiner Kindergarten

Taikura Rudolf Steiner Kindergarten’s philosophy strongly emphasises oral literacy through children’s play, and the informal and formal activities they engage in. Oral traditions of storytelling and puppetry are highly valued, and children use their environment to create and recreate stories that are both familiar and imaginative.

The key feature of teachers’ development of children’s oral language is storytelling. The kindergarten promotes a rich dramatic play environment and the children act out stories, repeat the words of others, and make up their own words to describe their actions. Impromptu storytelling is valued for encouraging children to use their curiosity and engage with their interests.

Circle time is an opportunity for children to ask their own questions and discuss answers. Teachers prompt the children’s thinking with “I wonder…?” These conversations engage children in both speaking and listening. Teachers model using descriptive language during activities: “we are going to make rainbow butter today” as children are cutting up coloured petals to mix into butter. Children’s home languages other than English (Dutch, Japanese) are also naturally incorporated into everyday activities.

Children enjoy playing with and using words in a variety of contexts, including rhymes, chants, repeating interesting words, eurhythmy 3, poetry, puppetry, singing, and verse. ERO observed children using a rich vocabulary when playing or describing their play. A group of children had learnt the names of many plants growing in the garden and were incorporating this new vocabulary into their play. Other children were singing “London bridge is falling down” as they built bridges in the sandpit.

Children are encouraged to make sense of their world through communication and given multiple opportunities to be creative and use their imagination.

Using Information Communication Technologies

Strathmore Kindergarten

Children at Strathmore Kindergarten use ICT in meaningful and purposeful ways. Children who are transitioning to school take the digital camera on their school visits to record their visit. Later they use the photos as a guide to write a story with the help of their teachers. Children are also rostered to take the digital camera home. Photos are shared each day with the child explaining the significance of the photos, or the story they tell.

Kai Time

Two girls want to find out what time their school has lunch so that they can have their lunch at the same time in preparation for starting school. The teacher helps the girls to use the internet to find the school’s phone number. The girls look for the numbers on the phone and contact the school. Another child asks if he can contact his school to find out the lunch time. The children find that the two schools have lunch at different times. They decide to have their lunches at the same time as their respective schools.

Barnardos Early Learning Centre – Eastbourne

At Barnardos Early Learning Centre –Eastbourne, ICT has been the focus of programme development over the previous few years. The service participated in a Ministry of Education ICT contract for early childhood education. This PLD in ICT has led to ongoing team development in this aspect.

Teachers focused their research questions for the PLD on how they could use ICT to build an inclusive community of learners, enhance teaching practices, reflect on their own learning, and work more collaboratively with children and their whānau.

As part of their Ministry contract, teachers introduced children to computers, cameras, digital microscopes, and software such as Artrage, Comic Life, and KidPix. 4 Teachers observed how the children used the ICT in their play and then investigated how they could further children’s interest and learning through ICT. The centre also holds parent workshops to share ICT expertise and programmes. Both teachers and parents have expertise and ideas to share.

Children are able to use ICT in their literacy learning both independently and with teacher help. The children have access to two computers and can play various literacy programs.

Children are supported by teachers to use ICT to both record and write about their work. For example, one child drafted and then typed an official invitation for parents to attend a service function. Children also contribute to their own learning stories. This allows them to revisit their learning, as well as share their interests with friends and family.


A small group of older children wanted to find out more about igloo building. This was sparked by one child’s interest in igloos. The children used the internet to research igloos and discovered plans to make an igloo out of milk bottles. They collected plastic milk bottles over an extended period of time, and built their own life-sized igloo, interpreting the plans during their building phase. Photos were taken and stories written about the igloo building process.

Teachers use ICT to document and revisit children’s learning. The teaching team creatively use Powerpoint, movies, and other publishing programs to do this. During ERO’s visit some children were watching a movie on a screen. The movie was one made at the service and showed a group of children learning together. The children were sharing information about their experiences as they watched the movie.

Following children’s interests

Totara Hill Montessori

“The growth of the child is by means of activity.....What motivates activity is interest......The joy of the child is their joy of achievement.” Maria Montessori, What You Should Know About Your Child (provided by the service). 

Totara Hill Montessori’s philosophy that the child must explore guides literacy teaching and learning. Teachers believe that children must discover things by themselves and not always be told. They recognise that children bring to their learning a lot of life experiences that can be used to build literacy knowledge, skills and confidence. They often write down children’s conversations to help them understand that writing is their thoughts and words written down, and that this writing can be shared over and over again. Learning stories include the children’s voices of what has happened – the outcomes and the next steps.

Literacy learning and teaching develops from the children’s interests. Teachers listen to the children’s ideas and work with them to extend their learning and development by encouraging further exploration of their emerging interests. Teachers have identified that the only thing that “gets in the way of children’s learning is an adult brain”. Instead teachers encourage, support, and challenge children’s thinking, while drawing on children’s experiences.

The environment gives the children self-select activities and the space to direct their own learning. Teachers have identified aspects of literacy that the children progress through at their own pace, and which guide teachers’ interactions. The first aspect focuses on language enrichment and helping children extend their vocabulary through conversations and learning to ask questions that build their knowledge and confidence. The second aspect focuses on children making connections between the spoken and written word, and letter sounds and what they represent. The third aspect uses letter and word games such as “I Spy” to build children’s literacy knowledge, confidence and leadership. The teacher has a box of objects, she sounds the beginning of a word and the children guess what object in the box she is referring to. Clues that relate to the colour and shape of the object are also given. As children’s confidence develops they often play this game independently of the teacher.

Teachers at Totara Hill are guided by the need to actively listen and be responsive to children’s interests and needs.

Physical development

Richmond Kindergarten

Teachers at Richmond Kindergarten share a common and agreed focus that places importance on supporting children’s physical and associated brain development. They are very aware that this focus supports children’s literacy learning, particularly the value of gross and fine motor skill development in helping children with skills for writing. They believe that it is important for children to be physically active and that this benefits them as learners.

The development of a literacy focus in the programme is linked to teachers’ interest in, and knowledge about, the relationship between children’s physical development and literacy learning. It also reflects schools’ expectations for children to have the skills for more formal learning. The programme supports children to develop their coordination, spatial awareness, and sequencing skills. It also supports children’s brain development.

A professional development workshop five years ago about children’s physical development was a catalyst for teachers to build on their interests in this area. Teachers continue to share readings and current research, particularly that which aligns to their focus on children’s physical development. They are open to new ideas and willing to try new strategies and approaches. Sharing readings and current research has stimulated discussion and debate about physical development and literacy learning.

The kindergarten’s “Early Literacy Framework” focuses on talking, listening, looking, concepts of print, and moving. The focus on the importance of physical development to literacy learning is explained in the document:

“Learning to read and write involves a relationship between physical movement and learning.” [This is taught through] fingerplays, dancing, crawling, the challenge course, uku/clay, and swinging.”

A guide for parents “Helping your child to write his/her name” provides guidance on physical developments and includes activities like swinging from bars, pouring water, and building with plastic construction blocks. The kindergarten also holds parent workshops about the importance of physical play to develop coordination for writing. This is supported by written information for parents on early literacy and physical play:

“b and d are both composed of a line and a circle; the only difference is which side of the circle the line is on. We learn this kind of distinction first through our own movement in space.” 5

Teachers place a strong emphasis on children’s gross and fine motor development. This emphasis is evident in indoors and outside play. Both the layout of the environment and imaginative play encourage this development. Finger plays and action rhymes are seen as very important and teachers have a clear rationale for including them. Activities such as paper plane making and the subsequent launching of them are encouraged as it helps develop children’s pencil grip. Outdoor games and climbing are actively promoted to develop coordination. Teachers acknowledge that the boys engage in competition, and organise activities like timing running races and competing against own times. Times are recorded and compared.

Working with parents

Richmond Kindergarten

At Richmond Kindergarten relationships with parents are welcoming, informative, informal, and one-to-one. Teachers are proactive in relating to parents, and know them well. They support the parents’ own literacy development through parent-help during sessions, particularly focusing on parents understanding stages of writing development. This happens in an informal way with parents on a one-to-one basis.

Parents have an increased understanding of the kindergarten programme and how it develops their children’s learning and transition to school. Teachers also provide verbal and written suggestions for how parents can support their children at home, for example, using a stick to draw on the sand at the beach; and about the key role of physical play in developing literacy skills.

Teachers recognise and understand the stages children move through as emerging writers. They give parents information about these writing stages and discuss with them how children develop their writing skills. Teachers also make good use of assessment to increase parent’s understanding of children’s literacy. In particular they use photographs extensively to document children’s literacy learning. These provide a visual record for children to revisit and to share with parents.

Teachers proactively initiate liaison contact with local schools. They are very aware of the expectations schools have for children when transitioning into school, and want children to experience success, particularly when they move from kindergarten to school. Teachers are familiar with the key competencies of The New Zealand Curriculum 6 and discuss with parents how these relate to children’s dispositions, which are a part of the kindergarten’s curriculum

Totara Hill Montessori

Totara Hill’s philosophy is Montessori-based and includes a strong emphasis on children being respectful and caring towards others. Parent’s responsibility for their children’s learning is central. On enrolment, parents commit to working in partnership with teachers to help their children become independent, confident and respectful learners. Regular parent and teachers’ meetings help ensure that the home and service environments reinforce similar values and approaches for children’s learning by showing parents literacy strategies they can use at home.

Teachers define literacy as part of everything that children do and experience. They have high expectations for children’s learning, particularly literacy and the role of parents in promoting literacy. They acknowledge that parents provide children with a wide range of experiences that teachers can then draw on to develop children’s oral language skills and interest in reading and writing. At individual or group information meetings, teachers focus on the importance of parents using precise language and the correct terms and names to build children’s literacy knowledge. For example, when families are visiting a zoo, parents are encouraged to call animals by their species name rather than a generic name.

Māori, French, Irish and German families have children who are involved in the service. Teachers encourage parents to share their home languages and cultures so that all children can benefit. They also encourage parents to speak their home languages to their own and other children in the service. Teachers try to use the phrases used by parents and often ask the children to help them with pronunciation of home languages. The service has a regular Dad’s night with refreshments for the fathers of children who attend the service. Teachers say that the dads talk more when their partners are not there. This provides a good opportunity to share literacy practices from both home and service with the fathers.

Children’s individual portfolios record their participation in literacy activities and what the children are learning from an activity. Parents often comment on how they have extended this activity at home. Teachers use these comments to help parents understand the service’s aspects of literacy and how each experience builds literacy knowledge and confidence.

Supporting practices – self review, policy, and professional learning and development

Self Review – Strathmore Kindergarten

Self review at Strathmore Kindergarten is well established, and teachers state that children’s learning is the key driver. Teachers have adopted a team approach, with a team leader chosen for a term. Their self review is based on triggers during sessions and reflection. The team develops questions and indicators, and decides what evidence to gather. The gathering, analysing and planning of improvements is done as a team.

Self review is also linked to their Association’s strategic plan and the annual plan goals for the kindergarten. Teachers have used Central North Island Kindergarten Association-based professional development and the Ministry of Education: Ngā Arohaehae Whai Hua Self Review Guidelines for Early Childhood Education 7 to complete detailed term reviews to improve the environment. The environment is regularly changed to keep children stimulated and engaged in their literacy learning.

Teachers are members of a local cluster group of schools and early childhood services. At these meetings teachers often discuss literacy practices within each organisation. To support transitions between the kindergarten and schools the cluster identified the need for children to have familiar experiences in each environment.

Teachers have used self review to encourage more parent comments in children’s profile books. They document their reflections of children’s learning, and often ask a series of questions to help parents make links between home and kindergarten learning and what could happen next to support this learning further. The wording of the questions shows that teachers know the families well and that the home‑kindergarten partnership is strong.

Policy – Barnardos Early Learning Centre – Eastbourne

Barnardos Early Learning Centre – Eastbourne has developed a written literacy policy that guides the literacy teaching and learning at the service. In 2003, teachers attended a series of literacy workshops and these, along with the work of Hamer and Adam, 8 influenced the development of the literacy policy. Teachers wanted their literacy programme to develop competent, excited and innovative learners.

The literacy policy states:

“The teaching team will provide authentic, holistic, integrated experiences to promote the development of the attitudes, motivation, knowledge, and skills that empower children to become confident and competent members of a literate society.”

The policy aims to promote and enhance emergent literacy skills and experiences for the children attending the service.

Expectations for teachers and the environment are clearly set out in the policy. It includes an extensive list of practices for teachers that support good literacy practice. These include:

  • oral, written and visual literacies
  • a print rich environment
  • the holistic nature of literacy
  • following children’s interests
  • a variety of teaching strategies
  • boys and literacy
  • e-literacy
  • planning for individuals, small groups and larger groups
  • literacy research and teaching practices
  • networking with schools.

The policy also outlines how to encourage parent input and participation, how to promote equality of experiences for all children, and health and safety issues related to literacy resources and activities.

Professional Learning and Development – Nelson South Kindergarten

A key aspect underpinning literacy practice at Nelson South Kindergarten is the value placed on ongoing PLD. Teachers’ understanding of literacy is informed by various PLD activities. The Nelson Kindergarten Association has provided workshops and courses about literacy, in particular oral language development, and transition to school. However, the regular day-to-day discussion, reflection and sharing of professional readings and research make a difference for this teaching team. Teachers ably put into practice new learning and seek feedback from their colleagues as to what works and why. Teachers are clear about why they do what they do and are able to justify their practice. They expect that children will engage in literacy activities in meaningful ways - in the context of their play, and related to their interests and strengths.

Relationships with the schools that children from the kindergarten will attend are developing. Teachers acknowledge the benefits of sharing understandings and practice about literacy teaching and learning. What happens in both settings is valued. Opportunities for joint professional development involving kindergarten and new entrant teachers have had positive outcomes. Teachers have an understanding and appreciation of literacy teaching and learning from both a school and early childhood perspective.

Teachers have replaced their ‘Daily Diary’ with an online ‘wiki’ 9 – a secure online space where teachers can record their reflections and share information about individual children. The use of a wiki encourages teachers to discuss their practice and what they have noticed about individual children and their interactions with them. This reflective sharing has improved teachers’ literacy practices.

Conversations at staff meetings, and the use of the internet to access relevant professional readings, enable teachers to pool their knowledge. The strong link between teachers’ involvement in professional learning and development and their practice enables them to reflect on what they are doing and change practice accordingly.