The Abecedarian approach is based on an evidence-based collection of teaching and learning strategies developed by Professor Joseph Sparling, a Canadian expert in the field of early childhood education. Engaged conversation is central to the approach which aims to increase the number of ‘adult-child interactions’ in all activities.

Research conducted over 40 years proves that this approach improves the

  • Intellectual development,
  • Academic success,
  • Socio-economic, and
  • Health outcomes

for children, and is particularly helpful for vulnerable children to change life outcomes.


Conversational Reading

is a ‘back and forth’ conversation between adult and child. It is ‘child-driven’ and responds to spontaneous reactions from the children.


Learning Games

teachers plan a series of learning games based on the identified needs of each child, their abilities and interests. The activities are based on 1:1 or 1:2 adult-child interactions and can be easily adapted by the adult so that the children feel they have been successful each time they play.

Over 150 learning games are available for teachers to use. These games are linked with the VEYLDF (Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework), and are purposely packed to make them convenient and simple to use. Each game is supported with a suggested set of directions on how to achieve the desired outcome. These directions are simply a guide and each game is adaptable to meet all abilities and skill levels.


Enriched Caregiving

highlights the importance of using every-day routines as opportunities for pivotal learning experiences. This is done through incorporating conversation, ideas and song into everyday activities such as nappy changing, dressing and tidying, and meal times.

The Impact for Children

Following training of teachers and educators by Professor Sparling in the Abecedarian approach (May 2015), 111 children at Seawinds Early Learning Centre were assessed using the ‘Ages and Stages’ Questionnaire. At this time, the data showed (on average) that 33% of the children were vulnerable in some or all areas of development. This was particularly noticeable in the areas of communication, fine motor and gross motor domains, with approximately 40% of the children showing delayed development.

After 6 months

After just 6 months, data from the individual assessments of the children demonstrated there has been a 10% decrease in the overall vulnerability of children across five domains.

Significant reductions in vulnerability were seen in the gross motor and fine motor domains where there was a 15% decrease – this means that more children were developmentally ‘on track’.

Children also made significant gains in the areas of communication, problem solving and personal/social – with approximately 10% reduction in vulnerability in these areas.

Given the short amount of time between when the teachers and educators were trained in the Abecedarian approach and 6 months of using the new technique, the results were particularly significant – this in itself is a significant change in practice and teaching.

After 12 months

After implementing the Abecedarian approach for a full school year 2016, following the February 2017 assessments, data showed that just 10% of children were vulnerable in some areas of development, and 12% children were presenting as borderline.

Gains continued to be made in the areas of communication, problem solving and personal-social, with an approx. 10% reduction in vulnerability in these areas.

The results from this early intervention are very significant and highlight the long-term positive value of the Abecedarian Approach, as being implemented at Seawinds. Children’s vulnerability is reduced, they are better prepared for school, and they are becoming well placed for significant progress in their ongoing learning.

Where we want to be in 3-5 years

Through the embedding of the Abecedarian approach and intensive adult-child interactions, we aim to evidence:

  • Reduction in percentage of developmental vulnerability in children
  • Increased levels of school readiness
  • Improved quality of early learning and care
  • Improved parent-child interaction for families and children ‘at risk’
  • Reduction in parenting stress
  • ‘At risk’ families accessing universal services
  • Service providers working together to reduce developmental vulnerability
  • Developmental and a commitment to a common approach
  • Community capacity improved.