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Play has a vital role in childhood education and that’s why learning can so easily be facilitated through play at home. It is through self and guided exploration that children discover new things and test their limits while the element of fun and enjoyment encourages the retention of this information.
The Learning at Home lesson packs we now deliver to Thanda households every week involve engaging activities that children want to do which often means they end up reminding their parents and guardians (who we are supporting to act as facilitators during this time) about the day’s lessons.
We once again visited Zethu, mom of three little ones Andile, Andiswa and Ziyanda. Her children seem to love the activities sent through by Thanda in the Learning at Home packets- when we arrived at their home we noticed shapes and LEGO strewn across the floor as the children were mid-activity.
We began by discussing what else the children were doing to stay busy. Zethu chuckled as she recalled a moment from the previous day “Yesterday we were looking at the stars” she told us “and drawing them using charcoal (from the cooking fire). They had a jol! They were laughing at my drawing and loved using the charcoal as a crayon. Although now they are using the charcoal to draw on our zinc walls!”
Of course, the children wanted to show off their drawings for us…
We asked whether she believes it is important to encourage children to draw, she whole-heartedly agreed saying “Yes, I like it because when they look at each other’s drawings they ask questions and that way they learn from each other.”
Asking questions is simultaneously the goal and just the start of learning, and we are always looking for ways to encourage this process. Storybooks can be a magical way to explore different worlds while learning to think critically and ask questions. Each of our Learning at Home lesson packs are based around a Bookdash book, enabling us to tie all the activities and games to the exciting characters and intriguing themes of the book.
The best part about the Bookdash books? The children are each able to keep their very own copy- forever! Research shows that books in the home are the single biggest indicator of academic success, equal to parents’ education, and more so than socio-economic status. Children who have a book of their own are 15 times more likely to read above the level expected for their age, than those who don’t own a book.
One guardian in our community, MaMememela (above), takes an active role in encouraging her grandchildren to read. Circumstances meant that she had to cut her own school career short and she was forced to leave school at the beginning of grade 6. “It is very important for children to read books” she says “I loved learning but I was robbed of the chance, that’s why I encourage my grandchildren to learn.” She goes on to describe the dedicated spirit she has instilled within her grandchildren. “I want them to learn. I do not have children that miss school without a valid reason. The teachers always complement their attendance, even when they receive their progress cards under number of days absent it’s always zero.”
Her grandson Vuyo (above) is particularly fond of reading. She shares that he “…really does read a lot of books, especially at night. During the day he enjoys playing ball until the afternoon. Then he brings home the cattle. At night, it’s his time to catch up on his books.”
When asked if she reads with her grandchild at night she laughs. “My child, she says, we pray at 18:00 and by 19:00 I am in bed relaxing these old bones. They (the children) stay behind and read to each other. I hear them correcting each other from my room”.
That’s the thing about literacy. It is important, but it also provides hours of fun. It offers a way for children to connect with each other when their grandmother has gone to bed. And, the best part is, while they are having fun and enjoying the stories together, they are learning more and expanding their minds with each and every book that they read.
Even though Covid-19 has interrupted the functioning of our regular programmes, we are determined to keep our beneficiaries reading and learning throughout this period. We have even restarted our Mobile Library, taking books to each household to be borrowed while our Guardian Home Visitors are talking with the Guardian of the household to support and upskill them to better implement the Learning at Home curriculum through play.
Back at Zethu’s home, her face really came alive when asked about the family’s favourite games. “They like the one where they had to crawl under the table with a Lego on their heads. They were having so much fun that we had to take the table outside.”
“Some of the activities actually made my mother (below with her grandchildren) remember a game she used to play as a child and we ended up playing it.” When the children’s grandmother was young instead of balancing LEGO, they would use an empty bottle filled with soil. Then there was another game involving jumping on to different shapes drawn on the ground. There was so much excitement when the children realised that they could play the very same games that their grandmother had played at their age. Zethu told us “The children enjoyed it so much that they said they wanted to play it again another day!”
Our chats made one thing abundantly clear to us and that is the theme of CONNECTION. Whether it be children teaching each other to draw or a family laughing together while playing or bonding with an older generation by revisiting games gogo used to play as a child. Having fun together both strengthens familial bonds and increases feelings of emotional security during otherwise stressful times. All this while children learn important skills like vocabulary and numeracy, fine motor development, creativity, empathy, resourcefulness and problem-solving.
Thank you for your role in this programme.
Kind regards, Angela