The research project Multimodal Literacies in the Early Years explored what learning to be ‘literate’ means for young children growing up in today’s media-rich world. It was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and was led by Dr Rosie Flewitt with Dr Sylvia Wolfe (University of Cambridge) as Research Associate.
What’s it about? In this study, we wanted to find out how three and four-year-old children develop literacy knowledge and skills as they participate in a range of everyday practices with traditional and new technologies, from mark-making on paper, to sharing story books, computer games, interactive TV and digital toys, both at home and in early education.
How did we do it? We wanted to gain in-depth insights into children’s literacy learning with diverse technologies, so we focussed on case studies of ten children in one Sure Start Children’s Centre in the South of England. We also conducted a survey of all parents and staff in the setting, and interviewed parents and staff about their literacy beliefs and practices to see how these influenced the children’s literacy experiences. We then made video recordings of the case study children in the nursery and at home.
What did we find out? Through detailed analysis of all the data, we found out that most young children experience a wide range of technologies as part of everyday literacy practices at home and in early years education. These include frequent use of traditional literacy materials, such as books, comics, paper, pens and pencils. They also include daily literacy encounters with newer technologies, including computers, mobile phones, games consoles and ‘smart’ toys. However, we also found a ‘digital divide’ between children, where some were developing sophisticated skills with a range of new technologies whilst others lacked skills and confidence with new technologies. For all children, becoming ‘literate’ in today’s society involves using and interpreting combinations of modes, such as spoken and written language, gesture, images, sounds and layout, as they engage with texts in different media.