Thinking out the b(o)x: Early Literacy is not just about reading

by | Sep 8, 2018 | Blog

Isn’t it amazing how the simplest acts can awaken long-dormant memories? Yesterday, while performing the simple act of washing my face before going to bed, I looked at my reflection in the mirror. I noticed my eyes and remembered the nickname my grandfather used to call me – “Nomehl’amancinane”, a Xhosa name that belonged to the protagonist of his favorite story to tell me when I was a little girl. When loosely translated the name means “The girl with the small eyes”. Sidenote – isn’t a nickname supposed to be shorter than your actual name?

My grandfather was only functionally literate, but he is the one who laid the foundation for my literacy skills through his story-telling. When one mentions the term “literacy” the image of a book usually springs to mind. While that is a correct association to make, literacy is not only about reading books. When we talk about early literacy skills, we include vocabulary building, singing and other forms of back and forth interactions.

One of the first steps in fostering a culture that encourages early literacy is understanding the connection between literacy and one’s entire life trajectory. Currently, in South Africa, around 4 out of 5 children in Grade 4 cannot read for meaning. We need to understand that the key to reversing that statistic lies in investing in the simple moments like storytelling, playing and reciting nursery rhymes. The ability to understand and take part in all the discourse that shapes our communities and the world, lies in the quality of our early life experiences. We are talking about the critical brain development that happens in the early years, so much learning can happen when all the puzzle pieces are in place before children get to school.

Educational apps are a great source of reinforcement with regard to early literacy and exploration. CareUp offers free learning resources to caregivers on activities to do with children, games, stories and inspirational messages. Wordworks provides parents of 0 – 5-year-olds with fun and creative ideas about how to talk, play, sing, write, count and share books with children on a daily basis. While Maths Up focuses on delivering fun maths content to Grade R practitioners and parents of Grade R children to strengthen foundational numeracy.

When you make different animal sounds or recite “Twinkle twinkle little star” one more time, never forget that you are making the kinds of direct connections that build young children’s brains and condition their minds and memories.

About the Author

Nadanababalwa Hermanus joined Innovation Edge in early 2018, bringing journalistic roots and a passion to the organization’s work of investing in young lives. Nada sees storytelling as the binding thread in her career. She is responsible for supporting the development and implementation of marketing and communications plans that contribute to achieving Innovation Edge’s strategic goals. She is also responsible for executing the following communication efforts: social media, web maintenance, and events organization. Her professional experience includes working in Broadcast Media, working with start-ups and non-profits. She holds a National Diploma in Journalism from Nelson Mandela University.