Language, reading, culture, diversity - a Plymouth partnership

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This piece of work was a partnership, as described below, and has been written up by Plymouth's National Year of Reading co-ordinator from material supplied by those directly involved.

What this project was about

Fourteen children aged between 7-11 years recently enjoyed an exciting night in Plymouth's Central Library. The sleepover was the high spot of a school-based project aimed at exploring culture and language learning, and celebrating diversity. It brought together staff from Holy Cross RC Primary School, a Primary Adviser from Children's Services, the Library Service and the Records Office, and a group of children from a rich variety of backgrounds - Polish, Malay, Chinese, French, Ivory Coast, Indian, and Bangladeshi. The children were all either new arrivals in the UK, or from families for whom English is not their home language.

As language is a key dimension of culture, the children worked with their families to retell Michael Rosen's hugely popular 'We're going on a Bear Hunt' in their home languages. The children also worked with school staff and the Plymouth and West Devon Records Office to explore the culture and history of their new home, Plymouth.

To celebrate all this hard work at school and home, a sleepover in the Children's Library was arranged for a Friday night. The children took part in a real bear hunt, following clues hidden around the library to find teddy bears along the way, and each child received a personalised bear. They also enjoyed stories from around the world told to them by a professional storyteller. The evening was fun for everyone involved, and certainly brought the story of the bear hunt alive for the children - this really was a great way to celebrate NYR!

Children from Holy Cross Primary had this to say:

"I really enjoyed the bear hunt because you had to find clues and on the Build-a-Bear box it would say a clue to whose bear it was. We also had to say 'We're going on a Bear Hunt' in our own language. It was first scary but after, you felt a bit confident."

"I really enjoyed sleeping in the library and the bear hunt. I liked the story teller, the bear hunt and the sweets (yum, yum). It was a little tiring getting up!"

"I enjoyed the whole night very much as it was a new and exciting experience. I loved my bear as it was built for me. We all felt a bit special and that we were lucky to be able to speak more than one language."

"I so enjoyed the sleepover and the bear hunt but I was tired when I got home. We had to think when we translated the book into our home language. I had to read it in Mandarin to the group and also to the whole school!"

The head of Holy Cross Primary said this about the project:

"It has all been a fantastic project, and the sleepover in the Central Library will be an event these children will remember for the rest of their lives. We have celebrated the fact that they are unique individuals with their own cultural heritage as well as enabling them to embrace the fact that they are citizens of Plymouth - and proud of its history too. This recognition enables them to feel good about themselves, and the fact that they can speak (and write) in varying languages must be acknowledged and rewarded. There were so many highlights. The storyteller told wonderful stories about each of their countries - and I am still hearing them being retold in the playground. The 'Bear Hunt' was a stroke of genius - the Primary Adviser from Children's Services had made up 38 clues that took the children all around the building - what a way to get to know your library! When the children realised that they all might be getting a bear out of all the 'hunting', the looks of excitement were worth so much. Then when they did get their own bear, especially made for them, it was very special.

A highlight for me was listening to the children reading 'We're going on a Bear Hunt' in their own languages - French, Cantonese, Malayaham, Polish, Mandarin and Bengali. They then enjoyed a midnight feast and snuggling down with their bears to read a few bedtime stories before lights out.

This is not the end of the project. The children are still visiting the Records Office, and an artist has been commissioned to put their learning about their Plymouth culture into a mosaic. The long-term aim of such a project is about cultural identity and celebration of diversity. But is is also about each of these children improving as learners, and we hope that the work will have a positive effect on how they see themselves. I hope that this pilot project is just a start and I am so grateful to so many people who have contributed to its success so far."

Quote from Central Library

"We were delighted to be involved in this fantastically creative piece of work, and to offer the Children's Library at Central as the venue for the sleepover. It was especially celebratory in National Year of Reading!"

Quote from the storyteller

"It was a delight for me to be part of such a brilliant event. All the children were very focussed and creatively involved, which is a testament to the Holy Cross school community. The bear hunt is a great way of getting children familiarised with the library."

For more information

Please contact Holy Cross RC Primary School via the website on

Check out the other articles on 2008 NYR in Plymouth on this site!

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