Children who grow up in the townships are exposed to 11 million words in their early years, but a child who comes from a “professional family” or a suburb is exposed to 43 million words, said Thando Mkhoyi, founding member of Kilombo Organisation and a literacy and language trainer.
He said the figures were the latest research conducted by the South African Book Development Council and Douglas Murray Trust on literacy in the township across the country,
He said the figures prompted his organisation to start Eyentsatshana pram jam sessions – sessions designed to encourage reading and storytelling. The sessions are held monthly at the Way of Life Church in Khayelitsha.
During the sessions they conduct storytelling, reading aloud and different activities.
Mr Mkhoyi said the sessions connected children and their educational development with their parents, caregivers and Early Childhood Centre (ECD) practitioners.
He said the aim was to encourage parents to read books to their children and perform storytelling sessions.
Mr Mkhoyi said the first session was held in July, and it received overwhelming support from the parents. He said being exposed to story telling and reading aloud at an early age boost children’s confidence and vocabulary.
He argued that township parents did not understand the importance of making time to read stories to their children. He said they left that job to teachers.
Mr Mkhoyi said the research findings showed that parents and the community needed to develop a strategy and a way to ensure that their children read books. He said the sessions also promoted the reading of home language books. He said they believed that reading played a vital role in building children in their early years.
Mr Mkhoyi believes that if children are urged to read and write while they are still young, by the time they reach Grade 3 they will be able to make constructive arguments and engagements.
He said children who were not exposed to many words would be negatively affected, and that could lead to them dropping out of school.
Mr Mkhoyi said currently ECDs were not developing children, but had become child care centres and had shifted their role of laying an educational foundation. This, he said, had been the missing ingredient in the development of children. He said parents leave their children at these centres when they go to work and the children would be fed and told to sleep or play and there is little teaching that occurs.
Mr Mkhoyi said the children reach primary school and high school, but were still unable to read with understanding, something that destroyed their confidence. “Parents should start reading for children before they are born. Some of the children who are exposed to many words, their parents started reading to them while they were still in the womb.
“We want this pram jam to be a foundation that promotes storytelling and reading aloud. If parents spend at least 15 minutes of their time reading books to their children, we know that their children would be exposed to 1 million words a year,” he said.
Mr Mkhoyi said they had already started an inclusive ECD to provide a unique teaching syllabus. He said about 95 percent of township children were not being told stories and reading aloud and only 5 percent that were fortunate. He said they had also established a reading club which takes places every Friday.