Alver Valley Schools’ Year R team trialled a new approach to curriculum planning during the Autumn Term 2019, called “Hooks into Books”. In this article we wanted to share the approach so far, and some of the early impact.

We use quality texts at Alver Valley schools to drive curriculum, and parallel texts that sit alongside these across our schools. Like many schools across the country we have a desire to further promote a love of reading throughout the whole school community.

In Year R we felt we needed to change our approach to curriculum planning, delving deeper into key quality texts to really inspire and engage our pupils – broadening their experience of a range of stories, developing vocabulary and understanding, and giving them a stimulus to explore as they wished.

Our whole school curriculum approach is to hook pupils into new topics and really engage and immerse pupils in those topics with the aim to motivate children to investigate, ask questions, and encourage them to drive their own learning in and out of school. Following a discussion with a member of the Hampshire English Advisory team we decided to trial a new approach to planning for Year R to bring all of this together. Key to the planning was to identify quality texts. Using our own knowledge of brilliant books, and the Hampshire text driver resource, we identified the right options for our children for both key and parallel texts. (This resource from the Hampshire English team covers all primary year groups).

The next step for our Early Years team was to develop our approach to introducing new books and planning ideas to really hook children into the key texts. At the start of each new key text we aimed to have a magical moment or hook.

To date, these hooks have included finding a bowl containing fruit that had varying degrees of nibbled holes (The hungry caterpillar by Eric Carle), a visit from the Little Red Hen (aka Mr Cook, dressed in his chicken costume) with a basket looking for bread, going on a full-scale bear hunt in our wonderful woodland area (Going on a bear hunt by Michael Rosen) and finding a log pile house and footprints outside the classroom (The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson). We have had parcels with new books sent into school and letters from various characters helpfully delivered to class by the office team (who love to get in on the fun), and my current personal favourite has been a hook into Goldilocks which has engaged the children so much it has inspired the writing of this article.

This particular hook started in our school woodland. First thing in the morning we donned our wellington boots and set out into the woods to see what we could see. We were busy noticing the dew drops on the blades of grass, the soggy leaves underfoot, the moon still visible in the sky, and the crunch of frosty leaves on the ground, when a story unfolded before our very eyes. One of the children spotted bears high up in the trees – you’ve guessed it: not one, not two but three bears, all hidden in the trees and each a different size. Why were they there? What could be going on? Children helped to transport the bears and we set out on our walk again.

Suddenly through the trees one of the children spotted three beds (well, pallets). Someone mentioned the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, so the children decided that the bears should try out the beds and, after further discussion about which bed suited which bear with a foray into mathematical language, we set out again. Unsurprisingly (to you, our reader) we next found some chairs (one sadly broken), and finally some bowls and spoons. As we had come to a natural clearing it seemed only right to tell the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears right there in the woods. The children were captivated. The interest in Goldilocks, but mainly the three bears, carried on throughout the week with children retelling the story themselves in our smaller wooded area in the outside classroom. But the story doesn’t end there.

The next Monday morning, after phonics and whilst we were halfway through dough disco, who should arrive in our outside area but the infamous Goldilocks herself, in person (previously known as Mrs Lockwood, although the children are still convinced it was her naughty twin sister!). She was outside, getting up to all sorts of mischief in our outside area. They looked through the window and decided that they had never seen behaviour like it – she was throwing resources about and sticking her tongue out at everyone! Goldilocks was invited into the classroom and the children and adults thought of lots of questions to ask her. Continuing all through that week, their child-initiated learning resulted in children making signs, building traps, acting out the story, writing ‘Wanted’ signs, going on Goldilocks hunts, and more.

The thing is that this all took place eight weeks ago (at the time of writing) and the interest/obsession with Goldilocks has shown little signs of waning, as our visitors from Ofsted found out when they visited a couple of weeks ago and found traps built in the woods and a little house. I’ve also noticed when in Early Years and also when viewing the Tapestry observations that even more sophisticated traps are being designed, described, drawn or made. This week the children discovered a house built in the woodland with the loose part provision in the area. The children decided it must be the work of Goldilocks and of course they are responding to her. Not many days go by when the children don’t ask after my naughty twin sister (sorry to my actual twin sister, on whom I did not in any way base my performance. Much). It’s true to say that the staff are not helping matters and Goldilocks seems to get the blame for all sorts of things that go a bit wrong – even to blaming a faulty Interactive Whiteboard on her. She is of course planning a return visit at some point.

Michael Rosen in a recent tweet wrote;

“There are many picture books which young children appear to ‘inhabit’. They ‘become’ the book. This is so crucial in the process of how children learn what it means to ‘read’ – in the fullest sense of the word”

We whole heartedly agree and this is certainly now the experience of Alver Valley School Year R pupils. The team will strive to plan those magical moments which allow our children to ‘become the book’ and ‘inhabit the book’, giving them the opportunity and inspiration to become readers in the very fullest sense of the word.

Ali Lockwood

Head of Schools Alver Valley Schools

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For more about Early Years check out our article on the school website in Spotlight on Alver Valley titled “Messy Art day”.