KU Early Language and Literacy Initiative (KU ELLI)

KU ELLI is an evidenced-based project bringing together the existing research and knowledge regarding the influence of preschool experience and family interaction on the language and early literacy development of young children. It is currently working with 13 KU centres and 100+ staff associated with these centres on language and literacy development.

The KU ELLI Project was first funded by the Federal Government in 2004.

Initially, KU received $497,000 to be utilised over 4 years as part of the Federal Government's 'Stronger Families and Communities - Invest to Grow' strategy to establish and evaluate the Early Language and Literacy Initiative in two of KU's South West Sydney preschools that catered for children seen to be educationally at-risk.

Following this initial period KU ELLI has received additional funding which has enabled this Project to be replicated in a third preschool in Western Sydney, to establish a KU ELLI Special Interest Group (SIG) for staff employed across the full range of KU Children's Services; to disseminate information about this Project within the broader national and international Early Childhood community and more recently, in line with the funding body's shift in priorities, to adapt the Project to an Early Language and Literacy Family Support Program.

Why is KU ELLI important?

Development in language and early literacy learning has been shown by Snow and by Dickinsen to be an inherently social experience - an interactive process by which a child makes their own meaning of the sounds, words, reading and writing that they experience. In the context of the family it is a process that is influenced by the nature of the child's family and their cultural and ethnic background.

When the KU ELLI Project began it was specifically aimed at areas of Sydney where there were particular concerns about the literacy levels of children entering school. These were also areas where a significant number of children had been identified as having speech and language delays/disorders/disabilities. We are now extending the work we have undertaken within these centres to involve the families more deeply in an Early Language and Literacy Family Support Program.

With the advent of the Special Interest Group KU ELLI is now targeting children from many different socio-economic and cultural groups within KU centres including indigenous children and children from non-English speaking backgrounds, as well as infants aged from birth to two years.
As the Project continues to develop we are refining our knowledge of how best to serve the full range of children enrolled in the many KU Children's Services, their families and the staff so that we are able to offer programs rich in early language and literacy experiences.

How is the KU ELLI project implemented?

The KU ELLI project provides centre staff with in-service opportunities to learn about industry-leading practices in the development of language and literacy. This knowledge is then used to develop centre programs that meet the needs of children within the local community.

The project also works closely with families to assist them in better understanding the language and literacy needs of their child/ren. This is achieved by providing families with opportunities for interactive learning experiences as part of the centres' programs and through access to the support of a Speech and Language Pathologist, a Literacy Support Specialist or Family Literacy Support Specialist.

It also provides a forum on Google Groups for KU staff to discuss key issues relating to aspects of early language and literacy development and programming to optimise this development within their centres; regular professional support visits are offered each term to services linked into the Special Interest Group; access to journal articles of specific relevance to individual Action Research Projects being undertaken within different services and opportunities for staff to share their knowledge and experience in working with the children and families at their individual centres at a range of KU forums

KU ELLI has produced a Program Guide on working with children in the two-to-five age group and their families and videos for use with families. It is proposed that at least one further Program Guide will be developed to support the implementation of early language and literacy programs with infants, and children from non-English speaking backgrounds and their families.

KU ELLI is designed to:

  • Enhance the language development of children from low-income households who are seen to be educationally at-risk
  • Increase the literacy knowledge of these children in the preschool years

The project provides a model of early language and literacy intervention based on resourcing low-income families (mothers, fathers and others) and early childhood staff. It has been designed to enhance the confidence of these families in providing language and literacy experiences for their children and to augment the knowledge and skills of early childhood staff in programming for the language and literacy development of these children. The development of the KU ELLI Project is based on the existing research and knowledge regarding the influence of preschool experience and family interaction on the language and literacy development of children seen to be educationally at-risk. The project is continuing into it's 2nd phase in 2013.

Key findings of the KU ELLI Project

An evaluation of the implementation of the KU ELLI Project in the original KU ELLI preschools demonstrated that they had successfully implemented a number of social constructivist strategies to promote the children's development of language and literacy. The strategies they used took into account the cultural and social diversity of the communities in which the programs were operating and reflected the relationships that existed between the staff, the children and their families.

The strategies that proved to be most effective in enhancing children's development included:

  • A focus on enhancing the relationships within the context of the preschool, between staff and adult family members, and with the children.
  • Offering a comprehensive staff development program that not only provided information to staff on areas such as the development of speech and language, early literacy and working with families, but also emphasised the importance of planning for these areas as part of the daily program offered at the preschool.
  • The provision of a Speech Pathologist and a Literacy Support Specialist to support the preschool staff in planning programs that catered to the children's language delays and disabilities and to share their knowledge and experience with the children's parents and families.

Further information on KU ELLI

If you would like more information about the KU ELLI Project, please visit the Programming Ideas page or contact childrensservices@ku.com.au.