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Reading stories to support distance learning in the early years

Written By: Rachael Coultart
3 min read


St Nicholas Church of England Primary School and Nursery is situated on the edge of some ancient woodland in central Hertfordshire in the new town of Stevenage. The school has 220 pupils on roll spread across the seven parishes, most of whom come from the immediate catchment area, which is a relatively poor socio-economic area – 22.8 per cent of pupils are entitled to free school meals and 13 per cent have SEND. The school celebrates its rich cultural diversity regularly and has 31.3 per cent of pupils who speak more than one language at home.


The COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges for us, as it did for many. Families with limited internet-enabled devices prioritised their use by older siblings in Key Stages 1, 2 and 3, leaving those youngest learners in EYFS with little or no access. Parents also reported their need to prioritise supporting the learning of their children in Key Stage 1 and 2 with the limited time they had, and therefore let their youngest children ‘play’ or be entertained by television.

In order to address the challenges we faced delivering effective distance learning for our learners in the Early Years, we communicated regularly with parents and sought their views on what was and what would be most helpful. This was done through individual telephone conversations and through Google Forms. We adapted and changed our provision as we moved through the lockdowns, eventually settling on providing three short adult-led activities for each day of the week (uploaded for the week onto our Google Classroom and the school website as well as being emailed home in the form of a PDF). The activities themselves required very little access to a computer, other than watching a video which could be done through a smart TV. 

This was later supplemented with a weekly storytelling and singing session on a regular afternoon both for those in school and those at home. As an Early Years team, we decided that one of our main priorities for our children’s learning was to ensure they had access to – and continued to listen to – high-quality stories. Therefore one of the most successful and effective distance learning resources we provided was a selection of videos of us reading stories we knew the children were already familiar with as well as stories we wanted them to become familiar with. We needed to set up a paid Vimeo account to ensure we had a large enough weekly upload quota and we experimented with some different video editing tools. However, the greatest hurdle to overcome was our own inhibitions around seeing and hearing ourselves on camera. None of us felt especially comfortable doing this and the early videos we made are definitely more stilted and less animated than we would normally be when reading to a class of children sitting in front of us.

However, parental feedback on the value of these videos (both for the ‘babysitting’ element and for developing their own understanding on how to talk to children about stories) and how much children enjoyed them definitely made the effort worthwhile. Parents often reported their children wanting to watch a story multiple times.

Going forward

While many stories that we use in the Early Years are readily available on YouTube, they are often read in American accents and at a pace that doesn’t allow children to readily process the information. By reading the stories ourselves, we have been able to incorporate ‘thinking time’ and time to enjoy the illustrations, as well as ask questions and pose a ‘challenge’ or follow-up activity based on the story.

I found that I began to analyse in more detail what I was doing when reading a story to a class in order to try and replicate this when reading to camera. I’m going to continue recording stories for children to access at home as I believe this is an effective strategy for supporting children and parents in listening to and talking about stories.


  • Start with stories you and the children are familiar with
  • Don’t be afraid of ‘overacting’ or of pausing to enjoy the illustrations
  • Have a key ‘lead-in’ phrase (such as ‘Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin’) and a suggested activity or challenge for children to think about at the end.


Rachael Coultart is Computing Subject Lead at St Nicholas C of E Primary School and Nursery, UK.

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