Stealing fire from the gods: Keynote address to Canberra Early Literacy Conference

On 13th September, I spoke in Australia’s Parliament House at the inaugural meeting of the Parliamentary Friendship Group for Early Literacy, followed by a keynote address to the third annual Paint the Town REaD Early Literacy Conference.

Paint the Town REaD (PTTR) is the Australian initiative which encourages families, carers and the wider community to ‘read, talk, sing and rhyme with your child from birth.’

Paint the Town REaD's Reading Bug

I tend to give speeches the same way I used to prepare my classroom as an infant school teacher: research the topic, put loads and loads of resources into place, then allow free play across the interests and needs of the audience. Today’s blog post captures a few highlights from the conference’s keynote discussion, assembled under the hashtag #occupyliteracy.

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Australian National Year of Reading launches with Paint the Town REaD

Barbie Bates and Rhonda Brain of Paint the Town REaD visit David Bradbury MP in Canberra
Paint the Town REaD comes to Canberra - Barbie Bates & Rhonda Brain visit David Bradbury MP

Australia’s National Year of Reading 2012 was launched today, 14 February, in the capital city, Canberra.

My colleagues Barbie and Rhonda of Paint the Town REaD were on hand to celebrate the launch with David Bradbury, MP for Penrith.

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Guest Post: Lee Castledine on Storytelling for Young Children, Part 1

Today on Books and Adventures, we’re joined by Lee Castledine, an Australian storyteller, youth librarian and secretary of the Australian Storytelling Guild.

I was lucky enough to see Lee’s workshop on storytelling with young children at the Annual Paint the Town REaD Convention this month. Lee demonstrated her accomplishments as a performer, educator and storytelling maven, and today, Saturday 17th September, I’ll be venturing over to the New South Wales Writers’ Centre to see a Storytelling Workshop Day organised by Lee. Therefore I’m very pleased to present a timely guest post from her on Storytelling for Young Children using Props and Audience Participation.

A candle, a book, an apron, a string, a puppet, a piece of paper….Props used in storytelling for young children can be anything the storyteller can think of, that enhances the story.  Some props are useful for encouraging audience participation, and manipulation props enchant the audience.  Not all stories need a prop – sometimes actions are the prop.

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Australia’s Paint the Town Read Scheme Brings Communities Together

Dr Matt Finch with Behind the Book's Comic Workshop in Brooklyn, NYC
Dr Matt Finch with Behind the Book's Comic Workshop in Brooklyn, NYC

Tonight, Thursday 1st September, I’ll be the guest speaker at the opening dinner of Paint the Town REaD’s Annual Convention in Sydney.

You can find them online at their new home, http://paintthetownread.info/

To discover more about this amazing Australian community literacy scheme, read my recent piece on the website of New York literacy organisation Behind the Book:

http://behindthebook.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/in-australia-communities-come-together-to-%E2%80%98paint-the-town-read%E2%80%99-for-early-literacy/

>Paint the Town Read – Interview with Rhonda Brain, Part 2

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You’ll find Part One of this Interview here:

Rhonda Brain, founder of Australia’s Paint the Town Read scheme, now takes the PTTR message to other towns across New South Wales and beyond.

“When I share our scheme with communities, I always remind them that we have been going for a long time, so they shouldn’t be daunted by the amount of things we do….Other towns may use as many or as few of our strategies as they like: they’re a springboard.” 

A number of the communities have adopted the idea of a reading mascot, and most run a Community Reading Day, but as Rhonda puts it, “on the whole, committees take on the concept and run with it! The concept is THE biggest “engenderer” of creative and fun ideas, I have ever come across….PTTR committees are always amazed and excited at how the ideas will flow…”

For example – in Toongabbie, New South Wales, the Portico Plaza shopping centre worked with local authorities at Holroyd City Council this year to run storytelling and craft sessions for children, hosted by local reading mascot Poppy the Possum.

‘Poppy the Possum’ in Holroyd, NSW encourages the community to ‘Paint the Town Read’

 

Diane Hacking of Portico Plaza explains why the staff and management were so keen to get behind the scheme:

“We’re a small neighbourhood centre, and the majority of our shoppers are families. We had no hesitation in helping local children to get a good start, giving them a chance to be better educated, and hopefully to secure a good job later in life. Many of them will grow up to be the teenagers, mothers and fathers who we serve here at Portico Plaza.”

The fun-filled events run by PTTR committees are fuelled by grassroots passion, but based in the latest scholarship on language development.

“There’s a plethora of research now on the brain’s need for stimulus for language development, from birth right up to age five,” says Rhonda Brain. “But it’s of little use if parents near hear of it….so, our motto is RESEARCH SAYS IT, WE SPREAD IT! In a creative, fun-filled, celebratory way.”

Rhonda sees a profound impact in this apparently light-hearted approach: “When something is celebrated, it is given value. We create a climate of wanting to read…with the whole community owning the project, from the mayor to the schools, businesses, parents, maternity wards, police, and beyond!”

Rhonda is emphatic that such a project serves the whole community, not just infants:

“We’ve seen the huge impact such a project can have on building social capacity and connectiveness – addressing our 3 basic emotional needs: to have a sense of belonging; a sense of worth and a sense of competency; relationships – not to mention the positive impact it could have on the economy…”

In 2010, PTTR continues to spread from town to town and Rhonda is now lobbying the government of New South Wales to adopt it as an official scheme.

‘Whether they do or they don’t, it’s happening, spreading like wildfire from town to town’ she says. ‘I would love to hold a book relay across New South Wales…and then Australia. One day we hope to have Australians celebrating literacy at the same level we celebrate sport – wouldn’t THAT be something!’

>Paint the Town Read – Interview with Rhonda Brain, Part 1

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‘I hope you’re reading to the baby, Mum, ‘cause I don’t want a dumb sister’

When a child in a New South Wales kindergarten met his newborn sister for the first time, he knew just what advice to give his mother.

The young boy wasn’t even in primary school yet, but he had been brought up to value literacy thanks to ‘Paint the Town Read’ (PTTR), an Australian campaign to raise awareness of children’s need for a language-rich environment right from birth.

It seems that no-one does ‘Books and Adventures’ quite like Australians. We’re back down under on the blog this week to talk with Rhonda Brain, a former headteacher from New South Wales who has seen the PTTR scheme, which she devised, take her homeland by storm.

Teaching in Parkes, New South Wales, Rhonda and her team realised that there were a growing number of children coming to kindergarten with delayed language development. Rhonda decided to target every new parent right at source – in the maternity ward!

She continues the story: “I wrote to every school and pre-school in Parkes, asking them to donate an agreed amount to purchase books for every new born, with a message in it from the schools …and later from the Shire Library.”

Government funding allowed Rhonda to think even bigger. She recruited a team of movers and shakers in childcare and literacy, including teachers, maternity nurses, and the local speech pathologist. With a motto of “We don’t want your money but we do want your co-operation!”, the team quickly secured the support of the mayor and other town leaders.

Rhonda explains: “It is wonderful, the town really do have ownership of the scheme, even to the point of being annoyed when TV reports the latest person as coming up with this wonderful idea of reading to your children from a young age.

“We held our launch in August 1996, gave the first baby born after the launch many books and prepared for our first Reading Day, held in 1997. We had many out-of-town guests from educational institutions and from parliament. The mayor held a civic reception for them and our committee and principals. Special education expert Dr Loretta Gircelli spoke at our launch and at our first reading day.”

PTTR activities today fall into three categories: on-going, one-off and annual.

Communities involved in PTTR arrange for books to be given to every child throughout their early years. The first of these on-going gifts is given to every newborn baby by their maternity nurse, complete with a personal message, and is followed by age-appropriate PTTR-designed story booklets, given out at immunization days, antenatal bookings and high school events.

One-off events included the clever appropriation of Y2K media panic to create the Millennium Reading Bug in 2000. This mascot has become increasingly popular, even generating its own fun dance at school socials and PTTR events. (When the Reading Bug laid an egg in 2004, children were encouraged to visit it and read to it just as their parents read to them!).

Along with a human chain of readers stretching more than a kilometre down Parkes Main Street, a 12-hour overnight “readathon”, and other attention-grabbing activities, Rhonda’s team have worked hard to keep literacy in the spotlight across New South Wales. In 2005, a Reading Relay saw a book passed, like the Olympic torch, from town to town across over 60 communities and 5500 kilometres in just two weeks. The message to ‘Paint the Town Read’ travelled by hot air balloon, motorbike, fire engine and even on horseback in a striking celebration of the communities’ dedication to encouraging children’s literacy.

The highlight of the PTTR calendar is the Annual Community Reading Day. Now in its fourteenth year, this event sees schoolteachers rise early to literally ‘paint the town read’, decorating shopfronts and streets throughout the town. Pupils, teachers and local workers all dress up according to a theme, and storytelling events take place in the town’s stores before the local park plays host to a celebratory ceremony that has over 2000 people in attendance. Guest speakers have included sports personalities, writers, government ministers, and even the Governor General of Australia.

Next time on Books and Adventures we’ll follow Rhonda as she takes the message of Paint the Town Read to communities across Australia.

You’ll find Part Two of this Interview here: