Learning to read is all about relationships and full community involvement

By Katie Huston for timeslive.co.za

In January, new research from the basic education department showed the alarming impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on reading skills.  

The study found grade 4 children lost 1.3 years of learning in 2020 and 2021. On average, in 2021 a 10-year-old struggled more with reading than a nine-year-old in 2018. In response, the basic education department has announced ambitious catch-up plans. These are important and must continue.  

However, a school-based response alone is not enough.

When we think of reading as a skill mainly developed in the classroom, we limit children’s potential and disempower the adults who love them. 

Ten years ago, the Nal’ibali campaign was founded because a small group of passionate people recognised that if we want all children to learn to read and love to read, we must look beyond school walls to start early and involve the whole of society. 

Children who arrive at school with a rich vocabulary can more easily make the link between sounds and written letters and understand the words they find in books. International evidence shows children who know more words at age three read better in grade 3, and their maths skills are better.  

Believing that reading is the “school’s job” also overlooks the immense power parents, caregivers and older siblings hold to shape a child’s future.

Children’s brains build connections through “serve-and-return” interactions — back-and-forth engagement where adults respond to children’s needs and interests. Children develop vocabulary, memory and curiosity when adults tell stories, sing songs, read aloud and talk about pictures in books.  

Most of these are things anyone can do, even if they can’t read themselves. However, recent research by Nal’ibali showed very few parents of preschool-age children are aware these simple, daily habits can boost children’s brain development. 

Read more here.

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