'In the beginning was the Word'
John 1: 1
One of our defining features as human persons is our ability to use language. Being made in the image and likeness of God, each child comes to school with this wonderful capacity to know and to love. Language is one of our great powers. One of the ways that God speaks to us is with words. With words we relate to each other. It is with words that past generations speak to us; this is how we encounter what is true and good and beautiful in our cultural heritage.
English lessons are where we develop our capacity to use words correctly, wisely and well. St Mary’s is a school where we celebrate the rich mix of languages and cultures, and where we recognise the importance of English, both for bringing us together as a family and for academic engagement. We believe that all lessons are, in one way or another, language lessons. Staff promote and enrich the language capacity of all the children. Our mission statement commits us to academic excellence; English is at the heart of this effort.
Children are language experts – how quickly they learn one, two or even more languages as small children. At St Mary’s we build on this by enabling pupils to become good listeners and good speakers in a variety of situations including listening to teacher, story-telling, drama and debate. All lessons involve the use of language for different purposes. Teachers provide an excellent model of correct grammar and clear, coherent expression. Being a good listener reflects the dignity of each person we speak to. Learning to be silent helps to build an interior life and to develop concentration. Make sure that you provide silent time for your child, for prayer, to read and simply to be comfortable being quiet and to build up an interior life.
Pupils memorise a range of well-loved nursery rhymes, poems, songs, speeches and sketches. Learning by heart makes for the most intimate relationships with literature and enhances understanding and critical response; when we give our heart to the poem, the poem reveals her secrets and so love of literature blossoms. Reciting well-loved poems and rhymes as a class builds unity and creates joy. Learning by heart comes very naturally to children and what they learn now is a kind of treasure which they will return to time and time again throughout life. Please encourage your child to learn a few poems by heart and to learn two or three songs - we all need to have a party piece!
'Any book which inspires us to
lead a better life is a good book'
The Venerable Fulton Sheen
Reading is at the heart of learning. Reading is a doorway that opens up the whole culture to the reader. Teaching the children to read is a top priority at St Mary's and we do all we can to build on the good work which you do at home to instil a love of reading in your children.
The children are taught phonics as the foundation to word reading. At the same time they enter imaginatively into the world of the story and respond to the plot, the characters and the setting using the language of literary criticism. Reading builds vocabulary, grammar and punctuation, and fine tunes the use of language. Story-telling and literature provide deep insights into human nature. As Blessed John Henry Newman explains, 'Literature is to man in some sort what autobiography is to the individual'. From the Greek myths and legends, to nursery rhymes and fairy tales to classic fiction and poetry, we tell each other the eternal truths of what it means to be a human being. Reading is at the heart of our curriculum. Parents choose to send their children to St Mary’s because we are committed to academic excellence for all pupils. Reading is underpins this effort.
All children grow in love of books from day one in our Nursery. From the outset children are taught phonics
Our written language is phonetic....as opposed to pictographic, as in Chinese. The 26 letters of the alphabet, alone or combined, make sounds. To write down a word you simply have to break it up into its sounds and write down the corresponding letters. This is phonics and is the foundation of learning to read. Every child is taught to ‘crack the code’. Pupils learn to read more irregular words 'on sight' and are taught morphology (how words are constructed with, for example, adding suffixes like '-ing'). Pupils also learn grammar and punctuation whilst enriching their vocabulary. These individual skills are practised and combined, ensuring that pupils become fluent, intelligent readers.
Choosing suitable books
Reading matters. When I read a book it changes me - for the better for the worse. That is why we ensure that the children read a well chosen range of stories, novels, poems, plays and non-fiction from our rich literary heritage. This is reflected in the new National Curriculum which proclaims that all pupils be offered the 'the best of what has been thought and said.' It follows that just as we are careful to provide good, wholesome food for our children, we are especially careful to ensure that books chosen are those which inspire a love of the true, the good, the noble and the beautiful.
As parents you have a solemn duty to ensure that your children are protected from harmful books, books that are morally degrading or spiritually repugnant. There is huge publishing market aimed at children these days so you must be especially vigilant, being careful to ensure that any book chosen has been checked by yourself. The books aimed at children are packaged very attractively and some are well written but it is worth bearing in mind the warning of St John Bosco when he asks, "Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" Please do come and ask for guidance on the suitability of a particular book. Remember, just because a book is popular, does not mean that it is suitable for your child!
There are some very helpful websites with recommended reading lists. This Catholic mother lists her favourite lists of good books, providing a very helpful 'list of lists':
And this is very good not only for its discernment but also for its sheer scale, recommending 1000 of the great children's books:
Please make sure that you do all you can to help your child to read and to love reading. This is a great gift and not only leads to academic success but even more importantly builds an interior life and leads our children to greater knowledge of and love for our rich cultural heritage:
When the right books are read each door opens into a hundred rooms
Douglas Wilson (Repairing the Ruins, p175)
Teaching your child to write is a top priority here at St Mary's. Our written language is phonetic....as opposed to pictographic, as in Chinese. The 26 letters of the alphabet, alone or combined, make sounds. To write down a word you simply have to break it up into its sounds and write down the corresponding letters. This is phonics and is the foundation of learning to read and write. Every child is taught to ‘crack the code’.
Pupils are taught the correct pencil grip (the tripod) and learn to form letters and write words that are clear and beautiful, moving on to learn a fluent joined-up style.
Alongside and building on their transcription skills, pupils learn composition. They write stories, and poems as well as recounts, descriptions and other reports for work in English and in other subjects. As they move through the school, they learn how to tell a good story that touches the reader and captures something essential, something true, noble and good about who we are. In non-fiction they develop their descriptive, explanatory and persuasive composition. Writing 'in character' - perhaps a letter or a diary - is a good way to strengthen the relationship between reading and writing. Composition titles reflect the pupils lives as well as concepts and ideas read about in English lessons, or from across the wider curriculum, helping to bring a unity and wholeness to their learning. Clarity and coherence is brought to their writing by the effective use of sentence structure, paragraphing and literary devices including, for example, rhetorical questions or figurative language.
Our school has achieved the Basic Skills Award which recognises our commitment to the provision of excellent teaching in the basic skills of language, literacy and numeracy.
One of the great privileges that all pupils aspire to is to read from sacred scripture and to read prayers at Mass and at other liturgies. Bearing this in mind, all aspects of public reading are developed.
St Mary's Book Day
This is the day, on or close to World Book Day, that we devote to showing how much we treasure books and reading. As well as dressing up as a well-loved character, there is silent reading and the writing of book reviews. See below for templates.
And a word of encouragement from CS Lewis, who reminds us that the best children's books can also be enjoyed by the whole family. The best children's books. in fact the best books, can be read and reread by one and all: “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” C.S. Lewis
As always, a reminder for parents that just because a book is popular, does not mean necessarily that is suitable for your children. St John Bosco, sums this up perfectly:
'Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?' St. John Bosco