Article written by: Jenny Hobbs
If we can read, there are no boundaries to where we can travel in our minds. Being able to read well is the basic skill our children need to get a good education and employment, the most valuable skill we’ll ever learn and a source of enjoyment for the rest of our lives.
We could improve South African education in less than a decade by reading to our children from the time they are small. Familiarity with stories and books will mean that they’re eager to learn more when they get to school.
- Parents, gogos, grandpas and childminders: talk and sing to babies from the time they are born, passing on the magic of words.
- Speak in your mother tongues. Languages are easily picked up by small kids and you will be giving them invaluable free skills.
- As soon as they can sit on your lap, read to them from books, magazines or catalogues, letting them turn the pages – however clumsily! – to discover what excitements are on the next page.
- Urge them to talk, chat, tell their own stories, and teach them songs and family traditions. Children who own words make up stories while playing and talk confidently with friends and adults.
- Take them as young as you can to libraries to see exciting, different books and choose some to bring home. Municipal and community libraries are free, and librarians are always ready to help.
- Give children books as presents. Ask at the library for the late, great Chris van Wyk’s Ouma Ruby’s Secret, which tells the story of how his loving grandma bought him books from second-hand shops, always asking him to choose and then read them out loud to her. He only realised when he grew older that she couldn’t read.
- Enrol children as soon as possible in early learning centre’s to expose them to new skills and the first steps to reading.
- Fight harder and more fiercely for schools that actively promote reading and a culture of independent learning.
Note: The government mandates weekly library lessons in schools which also receive library allocations – but random unregulated bookshelves are not enough. There are organisations that will advise about school libraries. For useful information, see the downloadable library booklet at http://www.flf.co.za/schools/
- Just watching parents read newspapers and books is inspiring for children. Keep books in your home and make reading cool.
- All reading is good reading. Look for comics, romances, action fiction, nature and how-to books at book sales and on street stalls.
- Link older children with the FunDza Literacy Trust for daily reading on their cellphones.
- Readers should recommend books they’ve enjoyed and circulate personal libraries in their communities. (Record who has borrowed which book by taking a cellphone photo with them holding it).
Surely it’s time for VAT on books to be abolished – it’s a tax on learning!
Great sites for South African children and young adult books