Freshly clean, tucked-in, cuddled and snuggled, in happiest anticipation of ‘story time’… Reading is a multi-layered universal ‘prescription’ for childhood joy, comfort and exploration. Perhaps with some overreach one might call them inalienable rights, firmly upheld, freely given. Central to the referenced collective is the experience of reading, fuzzy, funny, fantastical, fabulous BOOKS! Reading is an irreplaceable ‘entrée’ into the world around us, ‘vitamins’ for the growing mind.
Clue: watch the excitement of a child carrying their book into bed at night, tracing the illustrations and sounding out the letters and words they know, imagining what might be next…
Instruction: “Harness the uniquely portable magic of books” (Stephen King).
The uncontested South African truth is that the all-important practice of reading, the encounter with books is not equitably available or actively pursued. This fact is conflicted by the scientific global evidence that places reading (with meaning) at the learning forefront; for it not only prepares children for literacy participation at school but for life. This regimen remains neglected, ill-administered and minimally prioritised nationally. In the absence of a systemic government plan for sufficient budgetary allocation and the availability of trained teachers, the capacity to read a simple story remains tragically illusive.
Evidence: 81% of South African Grade 4 pupils were found to be unable to read with meaning in any language, the highest percentage of all 57 participating countries in the study. This means that of the 1.1. million children in Grade 4, about 900 000 children cannot read or comprehend written text (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, 2021).
The President has set a goal that “all children can read for meaning by age 10 by 2030”. The ambitious trajectory, undermined further by the COVID-19 pandemic, appears unattainable with “business-as-usual-schooling”. As proposed by the 2030 Reading Panel, collaborative efforts by government and the private sector, dedicated funding, a review of teacher training, minimum norms and standards, and a large-scale procurement of reading resources, remain central to the desired outcomes. All these interventions are important but, at this juncture, we also need to ask: “How can WE help?”.
The problem does not lie with the children, the problem lies with the policy makers and the existing system, yet we should not forget that the basis of early literacy development begins at home. It doesn’t require expensive resources, just a willing and active carer and / or parent / family member.
In the real world of working parents, single parenthood, guardian-care and multiple limitations and barriers to involved parenting; bed-time-story-reading may seem like something that only happens on TV. There may be no book to speak of…
What is needed is a strong sense of awareness, an understanding of the formative role of reading and an embrace of the reading culture solution. Take on any / all opportunities to read with / to your child. Often. Regularly. Informally. Variably. With meaning and extrapolation. Read for joy. Make reading fun. Download our free digital stories from our website. Visit the local library. Exchange and share books. Find an atlas. Adopt a favourite comic strip. Scan an advertisement. Take note of newspaper headlines. Generate a love of shared and paired reading. Be aware of excessive emphasis on correction, reading difficulties or comprehension questions. Encourage interactive, independent and expression-filled reading. Routinely read at a time that works for both you and your child. Practice reading a short poem for a family audience. Celebrate finishing a book. Visit a bookshop with a child. Use technology wisely. Digital resources can be helpful to extend the reading experience. Choose interactive e-books or reading applications designed for children.
Conclusion: Seize every opportunity to share reading with your child. When it comes to reading to your children, the benefits to your child’s life range far beyond the development of a close bond with them, although that’s certainly one of them. Reading aloud to children is truly the single-most important activity for building the understanding and skills essential for reading success that your child will carry with them throughout their life.
Subscribe to our online Reading Room to receive FREE stories every week. It will bring enlightenment and enlarge their world. Dr Seuss said it best, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you will go!”.
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