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Childwelfare SA

Early learning campaign empowers caregivers

With 90% of the human brain developed by the age of five, early learning is critical to ensuring a child’s future success. In South Africa, over one-million children aged three to five years old are not accessing any form of early learning, this is according to Stats SA. To assist, early learning programme, SmartStart, has launched a national campaign that enables parents and caregivers, to bring stimulating and engaging early learning activities into their homes.

At the core of the campaign is caregiver involvement and empowerment; “Parents and caregivers are children’s first and most important teachers. While we value the knowledge and capability they already have in this area, our aim is to provide them with the additional tools and information they need to ensure ongoing stimulation at home. This will give children the power to succeed at school and later in life,” says Grace Matlhape, CEO at SmartStart, a social franchise that has built and trained a network of just under 9 000 SmartStart practitioners, to fill the gap in early learning service provision. The programme has benefited over 98 000 children across the country.

Highlighting the importance of learning milestones, the campaign reminds caregivers that #EveryWeekCounts when it comes to providing foundational experiences and interactions. Using this hashtag, SmartStart will be sharing information on how early learning can be achieved through talk, play, nurture and storytelling, on their website, Facebook page and via WhatsApp – making it easy for caregivers to access daily. This also gives caregivers an opportunity to be more actively involved with their children.

“Although Covid-19 restrictions have eased over the past few months, many caregivers are still choosing to stay safe and spend their time at home. As a result, we’ve had to re-imagine the way we provide support to caregivers in the communities where we work. By leveraging the power of the internet and social media, we are able to provide affordable and accessible quality at-home activities, so that no child gets left behind,” says Matlhape.

By 2030, SmartStart aims to contribute to reaching one-million children between the ages of three and five annually. With this goal in mind, the organisation will be launching a new branch in Soweto, Johannesburg, as well as a branch in Empangeni, Kwa-Zulu Natal later this month. SmartStart operates in all nine provinces and has built a network of over 90 000 parents and caregivers, whose children are enrolled and active in one of SmartStart’s programme formats.

“Together with our implementing partners – our SmartStart franchisors – we build relationships with early learning centres and communities, whilst also enabling sourcing and training of additional practitioners, which increases both awareness and support of our programme in the areas in which we operate,” says Matlhape.

As part of the campaign, which will be running for the next 12 months, SmartStart franchisors and practitioners will be hosting open days, monthly workshops, and meetings to build relationships with caregivers and share tips and tools. The organisation will be sharing new materials regularly, available in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu, and Sotho. For more information, visit parent.smartstart.org.za, or sign up to the WhatsApp number on 087 240 5125.

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