As South Africa’s recognises International Literacy Day today, September 8th, Seago Maapola, an Educational Psychologist dedicated to supporting families and young children, highlights the importance of nurturing a love for reading from an early age and incorporating books into our daily family lives.
Here’s a scary thought – according to the National Reading Barometer South Africa (2023), 65 percent of homes with children under age 10 do not have a single picture book.
Maapola emphasises the importance of spending quality time reading together as a family. She says it’s an opportunity for bonding and encouraging a love of reading in children in an environment in which they feel comfortable. “When children feel safe, they will be more receptive to reading, and the best learning takes place in environments where a child experiences trust,” she adds.
Reading books written in a home language that children are familiar with is a great way to encourage kids to read, it helps them to better relate to the story which can have a positive impact on a child’s sense of self.
Encouraging early literacy skills lays the foundation for formal literacy taught at school. “If learners are read to from an early age, they learn to recognise letters, and develop their vocabulary and listening skills. This helps then prepare them to learn to properly read from grade one,” says Maapola.
The academic, emotional, and social impact of weak literacy skills can be dire, says Maapola. “Children start to experience deep frustration and low self-esteem. They are embarrassed when asked to read in class or to participate in classroom discussions. Sadly, they start to develop a negative attitude which begins to impact their learning in general. Their school marks then drop, making them feel hopeless and helpless.”
Children with low literacy skills sometimes even experience bullying which further perpetuates their anxiety, causing them to become socially isolated and resulting in the development of behavioural issues.
Maapola stresses the game-changing effect of exposing children to books when they are very young. “Give them access to books, read to them, and read with them so they have a learning advantage. I say with because reading is not something that happens from one side; it’s bi-directional.”
Parents should read to their children from birth, this helps babies develop vocabulary, and teaches children to learn to reason and to think critically. “Use facial expressions to show certain emotions and change your tone of voice to emphasise certain points, this helps children to learn social skills and cues,” Maapola adds.
It’s not just about reading to children. “As parents, we need to read ourselves, to cultivate a love of reading in our homes. Children don’t only listen to what we say, they watch what we do. Parents who read themselves create a positive association with books, if we’re curious and interested, children tend to feel the same.”
Maapola says she’s seen striking results when parents read to their children. “Whenever an assessment (of a child) shows there are literacy issues, I recommend that parents to read to them at home. The results have been amazing. Literacy needs to be part of the family lifestyle.”
Wimpy, a proudly family-orientated brand, has partnered with Maapola to create awareness of the benefits of developing early literacy skills in an effort to boost SA’s poor literacy rates.
Over the past three years, Wimpy has partnered with an online bookstore, Ethnikids, to produce multilingual, multicultural children’s books based on local South African folktales that children can relate to and identify with. Even better, the books are available in all 11 official languages so that kids can enjoy reading in their own language.
Jodi Law, Brand Manager at Wimpy says that the brand recognises the importance of early literacy skills and are committed to encouraging family time while making reading enjoyable and accessible. “Reading is a magical way for families to spend time together. It helps children develop a love for books while enabling them to appreciate the art of storytelling.”
The books from last year’s Wimpy in partnership with Ethnikids campaign are currently available online at https://wimpy.co.za/kids/ethnikids/ . Kids can look forward to a new series of exciting local stories which will soon be available in English at Wimpy restaurants with a Kids Combo Meal, the translated versions will also be available in all 11 official languages online.