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GROW ECD / Book Dash / My School – Empowering Early Literacy: Local partnership brings books home – 23 April World Book Day

 

Research shows that book ownership is vital to holistic early development and lifelong academic and economic success. However, globally, there remains a significant gap between children who own books and those who don’t. In South Africa, book ownership levels are critically low, especially in impoverished communities, which links to low literacy levels.

 

In February 2023, Grow ECD in collaboration with Book Dash and funded by MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet, launched the ambitious “Growing Readers with Books” project. The project’s mission is to place reading books directly into the hands of 13,000 young children and arm their parents with the tools and desire to foster a love for reading at home.

 

Children with books at home excel


Tracey Chambers, CEO of Grow ECD, says, “At the heart of our initiative lies a simple equation: books at home combined with quality Early Childhood Development (ECD) in the classroom equals a solid foundation for literacy success.”

 

Research consistently proves that children who grow up in homes filled with books tend to excel academically and develop stronger language skills. However, in South Africa, access to age-appropriate books remains a challenge for many families. Reading and sharing books with preschool children, starting from birth, is one of the most effective ways to set them up for lifelong success, she says.

Sharing books with a child is more than reading, it’s connecting and learning

Book Dash’s Executive Director, Julia Norris, says, “Book sharing is more than just reading to a child. It is interactive, follows the child’s interest, and encourages and praises them for participation. Adults can ask open-ended questions, point to and name objects, connect book content to children’s own experiences, and use book content to expand conversation to new concepts and ideas. Book sharing is also accessible to parents with low literacy skills; even illiterate adults can use picture books to engage with children,” she says.

 

“When families start book-sharing from an early age, it creates a snowball effect. Children’s early language and literacy skills develop, which can increase their interest in books and encourage parents to continue book-sharing routines.

 

“These foundational skills pay off later in life, too. Toddlers who know more words read better when they get to school, and early language and attention are some of the strongest predictors of cognitive functioning and learning outcomes. Also, children who regularly participate in book-sharing with an adult they trust form a strong bond with that person, which helps create a sense of safety and security. This socio-emotional aspect of reading is also very important in early development,” says Norris.

 

Engaging parents on their role in early literacy


Unfortunately, many South African parents view reading as something children will learn at school. Research shows that two-thirds of adults who live with children do not read with children before they can talk. Also, only half of zero- to five-year-olds attend early learning programmes and many Early Childhood Development (ECD) facilities have limited or no age-appropriate books, says Chambers.

 

A power partnership to empower ECD centres and parents:

  • Book Dash has a bold vision of ensuring that every child owns 100 books by the age of five. Book Dash is well-known for its innovative publishing and distribution models, making access to locally relevant books more affordable.
  • Grow ECD works to transform early learning centres into hubs of excellence equipped with the skills, resources, and support needed to provide 5-star early learning for every child.

By leveraging these organisations’ extensive network and Grow’s digital platform, they are collaborating to extend the reach of literacy interventions beyond the classroom and into the homes of thousands of families.

 

Chambers says, “ECD Centre owners are eager to engage parents on their role as their child’s ‘first teacher’. We wanted to equip our ECD centre owners with the knowledge and tools to run literacy workshops for parents and equip every learner with at least two books. Thanks to the generous support of MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet, we are able to do that.”

ECDs host literacy workshops for parents


Central to the project’s effort is empowering ECD centre staff to engage parents. Grow ECD developed a free online training module titled “How to Host a Parent Workshop,” to equip educators with the practical skills and resources needed to engage parents in promoting early literacy at home. The training is available in a data-free format. It covers the importance of parent involvement, literacy skills to try at home, and practical workshop facilitation techniques and guides.

 

More than 9000 books given to children

 

To date, 118 ECD centres have already completed the training and 9,176 books have been distributed to 4,588 children under the age of five across Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal, and the Western Cape. Each child received two books: “Lost Toy” (a wordless book) and “Look out, Luthando” (English), chosen for their broad appeal across diverse linguistic contexts.

 

ECD owners’ positive responses to the workshops

 

Romany Robert, Principal of Sunbeam Primary School in Durban, hosted her workshop in March and says, “It was such an enjoyable event to host a literacy workshop for our parents. We had a 95% parent attendance, and what was wonderful to see was that many dads and grandmothers attended too – literacy for the whole family!”

 

Fikile Mofokeng, the principal of Khulani Creche in KZN, says,” I strongly believe in the importance of fostering strong partnerships between schools and parents. I was excited about this project since I knew it would help us engage with parents directly and collaborate on strategies that will support children’s learning at home. It was indeed an eye-opener for most parents since they never thought their children would really read a book at their age and enjoy reading! I can see the difference. Both parents and children are embarking on this journey, which makes us proud.”

 

Looking Ahead: 8,400 children to receive books

 

In phase 2 of the project, the partnership aims to reach an additional 8,400 children by November 2024 and expand the opportunity to the Eastern Cape and Free State. 


To learn more about the Growing Readers with Books project and how you can get involved, email info@growecd.org.za

 

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