Research shows that children who have been read to 3 to 5 times a day from birth will have heard about 1.4 million more words than children who have not been read to. This ‘million word gap’ could well explain why some children have much better language skills and cope so much more easily with literacy, numeracy, learning to read and write and do so much better in school.

South Africa does extremely poorly in international literacy tests. In fact in 2016 an international reading study found that 78% of South African Grade 4 learners (8 out of 10 children) cannot read for meaning even in their home language. So South Africa has the lowest reading score out of 50 countries! This is a national crisis. Children learn to read and then read to learn, so children who cannot read for meaning are highly unlikely to reach their education potential and become employable citizens.

What can be done? There are some amazing initiatives in South Africa. There is the exciting Nal’ibali national reading-for-enjoyment campaign to spark children’s potential through storytelling and reading. Stories are available for all ages and in all languages free on the Nal’ibali website – www.nalibali.org , as well as through regular radio programmes in 12 languages and in newspaper supplements. More than 4800 reading clubs have been established and over 17 000 FUNda leaders champion storytelling in various communities.

Nal’ibali partners with another amazing organisation – Book Dash. One of the reasons for our poor levels of literacy is the high cost of books. In 2014 Book Dash was created to flood South Africa with books for young children. It does this by gathering creative teams of volunteers – authors, illustrators, book designers and editors – who are given 12 hours to create new African storybooks for young children. More than 130 books have been created and are available in a number of South African languages. A Book Dash is an extraordinary event full of excitement and creative energy and they result in amazing books that anyone can freely print, translate and distribute.  Check their website: www.bookdash.org

We need to change the reading culture in South Africa. And change starts with you! The foundations of literacy start from birth and in the home. Parents and families have a critical role to play. Read to your babies from birth; tell lots of stories; sing lots of songs; say lots of rhymes; play and talk – often and every day in all your daily activities. If you live near a library – join and take lots of books out. Sitting with your little one cuddled up close and reading stories is one of the most precious experiences for both of you and it’s an important investment into your child’s future. Do it often every day.

It starts with a story! Give your child the million word gift!


Learn more about what you can do to change your child’s future by listening weekly to LOVE, PLAY TALK, the radio programme on Valley FM aired EVERY Tuesday from 10 to 10.30am and brought to you by Ilifa Labantwana, RCL FOODS and the DO MORE Foundation.

Get more information from the following websites:

Do listen every week and give your little one the best start in life!





SmartStart Playgroup leaders enjoying the Nal’ibali storyplay workshop

In June, Nal’ibali ran an exciting, fun workshop for teachers, playgroup facilitators and parents of young children attending the Breede Valley Young Child Forum. The hands-on workshop covered storytelling and how to build young children’s early language and literacy through stories and play. Participants remembered their own childhood and the fun they had and what an important part play and storytelling had been in making them into successful adults. Books and stories were shared and Worcester libraries shared the exciting holiday activities they have for children during the school holidays. Join your library and make sure books, reading and storytelling play an important part in your child’s life.

Developing our young children is everybody’s business and very important if we are to co-create ‘Worcester – a place where young children flourish!’

For more information about the Breede Valley Young Child Forum, please contact Jackie Saaiman at jackie@lima.org.za

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