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By using colourful creative signage, this initiative turns a routine shopping trip into a learning adventure.

The need

When adults have frequent positive conversations with young children, remarkable things happen. The children’s developing brains use these interactions to build knowledge and vocabulary and make sense of their world, sparking curiosity and wiring them for learning.

There is a close tie between children’s success in school at ages 9 and 10 and the quality and frequency of the verbal interaction that they engage in with their parents and caregivers during the very first years of life.

Research shows there is a vast gap between early language experiences of many children from under-resourced communities and their wealthier peers.

If there were more opportunities for early stimulation and learning in everyday environments, these young children would take part in more of the kind of language and knowledge interactions they need to get ready for school.

The innovation

Sifunda uses fun and engaging signage to prompt positive interactions between caregivers and young children in supermarkets. This turns a daily routine into a learning opportunity.

The project team adapted a US study to South African conditions, and signage is placed in a range of areas across select retail outlets (currently Pick ‘n Pay and Boxer supermarkets) in lower-income areas.

Children are encouraged to search for the characters that appear in floor stickers, on overhead banners, or on the glass covering display cases. At each interaction site, a colourful character prompts adults and children to interact in a number of ways – by discussing shapes and colours, naming objects, or talking about where products come from and how they can be prepared.

The innovation lies in the use of everyday spaces to encourage positive interactions, but more importantly, in the design of an early years intervention that is integrated into an existing platform for scale – a supermarket chain with a massive footprint on the continent.

Key insights

The win for the caregiver – fewer tantrums! The presence of signage helps decrease the frequency of negative interactions between caregivers and children in a busy environment.

The success for the child – fun and learning at the same time. Children are exposed to positive stimulation and learning opportunities in an environment rich with material.

In addition, the gain for the supermarkets – with a small, low-tech input, supermarkets can become a rich learning environment for caregivers and children without compromising sales. Early results from the first Pick n Pay site indicate that the programme may even increase sales and build customer loyalty.

This initiative has an opportunity to demonstrate that what is good for our children is good for business.

The project team

South Africa Partners builds mutually beneficial partnerships between the United States and South Africa in the areas of health and education.