There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that early childhood education provides persistent, life-long benefits to children and that a comprehensive birth to age five programme has lasting effects on IQ as well as academic and economic achievement. This is because the neurological foundation for lifelong learning is developed during the first five years of life when a child’s brain grows the fastest and is most responsive to experiences and the environment.
Research indicates that the socio-emotional skills learnt in early childhood has a greater impact on later-life outcomes than cognitive skills. However, despite the proven advantages of early childhood education, South Africa has been struggling in this area. In 2021, an Early Childhood Centre Census found that there were more than 42 000 early learning centres or programmes in the country.
The census further revealed some worrying statistics about the types of learning materials and toys on offer, 34% don’t have an outdoor play area with suitable equipment; 44% don’t have access to age-appropriate books; 59% don’t have theme tables; 50% don’t have materials for counting; 48% don’t have play dough; and 37% don’t have instruments for children to learn rhythm.
In a 2022 Focused Impact Report, carried out by Makosi’s 10,000Kids Project, it was found that the early years of human development establishes the basic architecture and function of the brain. And while the study found education to be important, the quality of it was deemed just as crucial, if not more. This is because it found thatan estimated 250 million children were not learning basic reading and math skills, despite half of them spending at least four years in school.
Pre-primary learning is therefore vital for young minds, and it all begins with reading. This helps them develop a love for learning and it’s a monumental stepping-stone. For children, reading is not just a skill, it’s a journey of exploration and discovery. It opens their imagination and allows creativity to flourish and come to life.
Through books, they make sense of the world, while understanding compassion and empathy. Their cognitive abilities begin to take shape and their language skills begin to develop. This will impact the rest of their lives.
“This is why The SOOQ has a dedicated area for this stage of the learning journey for kids. As an online e-commerce store, we have various activities, toys, and books available, all locally supplied. Our online reading corner also includes a dedicated category for this stage of learning and stocks books supplied by a local bookstore called Story Café, located in Johannesburg.” said Kayla de Jager, Chief of Sales at The SOOQ,
”The reading corner is a part of the store that we are particularly proud of because of our growing selection of local authors in this category. Our collaboration with Story Café allows us to assist in providing access to reading resources needed by so many in South Africa.”
Tamara Gordon, registered drama therapist and educator, as well as the founder of The Story Café said embracing reading for meaning in early childhood development is more than decoding words on a page.
“We believe children need to understand and interpret the information they read in order to make sense of it all and connect with the world in a meaningful way,” said Gordon.
“Exposing children to diverse book characters allows them to see the world through different perspectives. Stories from their own South African context helps them understand their communities better and appreciate different experiences and cultures.” De Jager said it was important to support local authors and entrepreneurs.
“It is essential for us to create a vibrant and diverse literacy ecosystem and by promoting and celebrating local talent, we are helping inspire a new generation of leaders, whilst providing young readers with stories they can relate to,” she explained.
The Sooq and The Story Café aim to help parents and their kids on the learning journey by providing them with the resources they need on one accessible local online marketplace. They will also be launching live reading sessions soon via social media channels featuring local authors.
“As a parent, you have the power to inspire your children and help them create a successful future. And it all begins with reading books. Be present in these early moments of life, and the rewards for your children will be priceless and life-long,” concludes De Jager.