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Your guide to the new Better Start Literacy Approach

If you’ve got a child in Years 0-2 at school, you’ve probably heard about the Better Start Literacy Approach. But what is it all about? By Kate Barber

The Better Start Literacy Approach (BSLA) was developed by a team of researchers from the University of Canterbury’s Child Well-being Research Institute to ensure all teachers use approaches to teaching literacy that are proven to work.

Led by Professors Gail Gillon and Brigid McNeill, controlled research trials over five years proved the effectiveness of the approach compared to ‘usual classroom practice’. The approach has shown to be effective for children from all ethnicities, language backgrounds and demographic areas. In 2021, the Better Start Literacy Approach was rolled out nationwide and is now in over 850 schools.

If you have a five- or six-year-old at school, chances are they are familiar with the approach. Perhaps you’d like to school-up about it so you can best support your child with their reading at home.


Dr. Amy Scott is a Senior Lecturer in the Child Well-being Research Institute and is part of the team that developed the Better Start Literacy Approach. As Amy explains, BSLA is a structured approach to teaching literacy for Years 0-2. It offers a systematic way of teaching letter names and sounds, along with phoneme awareness, which is how letters and sounds work together in words, she explains. The phonological skills children develop support them with their reading and their spelling. The approach is very different to the ‘whole-language approach’ to teaching literacy, where a child might use the pictures and context to work out how to read something. Children use the new Ready to Read – Phonics Plus early reader series in small groups at school and bring school readers home to share with whānau.


Read to them!

“Your main job is to foster a love of reading,” says Amy – through telling stories, sharing favourite books, visiting the library…. You want them to experience success and enjoyment, and not be turned off from listening to and reading stories. Even when your child can read themselves, Amy urges parents to keep reading to them.

Follow their lead.

Your child will probably bring home their school reading book. But what are you supposed to do with it? Amy stresses the importance of “following your child’s lead”. If they want to show you/read their book, that’s great. But don’t force them. Read it, or something else, to them instead. At the end of the day, our five- and six-year-olds are really tired and after-school reading can be really tough. Have the snacks ready and give them downtime. Whatever you do, avoid getting into a battle about their reading.

Try other fun activities.

There are teaching notes as well as suggested activities at the back of the school readers to guide you. You could play “I Spy” using a sound – I spy something beginning with a “p” sound. Or, cut a letter out of a magazine and make a collage of things beginning with that letter sound.


Talk to your child’s teacher about BSLA and how you can best support your child.

Your school may run whānau workshops to help you better understand the Better Start Literacy Approach.

Visit betterstartapproach.com.

Is your child falling behind with reading and writing? Here’s what to do if you’re concerned.

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