Articles, Literacy, Reading

Grade R & Russian Roulette

Smiling Grade R children sit on a bench while doing an activity with their teacher.

Do you know enough about Grade R to make an informed decision about where to place your child? If your child has already been placed, do you know what your role is during this year, in laying strong foundations for literacy development?

Nursery School

You can ask any parent what a child does at nursery school all day and they’ll be able to give you a list of activities, that tumble off their lips before you’ve even finished asking the question. Everyone knows that at nursery school children play, draw, cut & paste, paint, sing & dance, mold play-dough into shapes, build with blocks and play games. We also know that they learn about colours, numbers, shapes, days of the week, months of the year and seasons. Add to that vocabulary, how to wash their hands, how to look after their belongings, table manners and that ‘caring is sharing’. These are the obvious things, but of course, there is more – much more. By having fun at school kids become smarter, a little more independent and ultimately ready for ‘big school’.

Grade R – the reception year

How many parents with children entering Grade R within the next couple of years can state, with as much certainty, what takes place in a Grade R classroom? You may have a few ideas in your head, but are you certain? Are you one of those parents that thinks that Grad R is all just play and is not very important in the grand scheme of things? Are you one of those parents that think that Grade R is just like Grade 1? Do you know the difference between nursery school and Grade R? Is there even a difference? Grade R is a bit of a mystery to most people and parents are not enough ‘in the know’ about this fundamentally important year that can really make a big difference academically.

Grade R was initially introduced by the Department of Education to bridge the gap between affluent schools and impoverished schools, and also to meet school readiness needs across the board. It has been part of the General Education Training Band (GET) since 1998. It has been around for a while and is now offered as the reception year at most public schools, some nursery schools and many Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers across the country. Unfortunately, this extra year has so far reportedly not contributed hugely to bridging the educational gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, but has actually widened it.

With Grade R being so widely available, many children attend some form of Grade R before entering Grade 1. This could be through a public school or through a private center. This should mean that these children are entering Grade 1, ready to learn, on an equal footing with their peers. Unfortunately, this is not the case for some.

There are as many variations & interpretations of the Grade R curriculum as there are ECD centers and schools out there. There is a smorgasbord on offer. So how do you choose wisely between them? What do you look for? If you’ve already chosen one what should you expect?

Is Grade 1 a level playing field

In addition, there are still some children who do not have the luxury of attending any type of schooling, let alone Grade R, before entering Grade 1. On the other hand, there are other children that are already burnt out, stressed out and disinterested in school due to developmentally inappropriate learning tasks & activities, being under pressure to perform and the over-assessment that sometimes happens in Grade R classrooms. As a result, the Grade 1 classrooms can be an unpredictable mess of maturity levels, emotions, skills, knowledge, ability, anxiety and fear at the beginning of the year. The Grade 1 teachers are expected to level the playing field within 1 year, which is highly improbable unless they have class sizes of 10-15 children.

There can be consequences for placing children in Grade R to young

Parents are placing their children into Grade R as early as they possibly can, mostly for one of two reasons. One, which I have heard multiple times is that the fees for Grade R are lower than nursery school fees and the belief that if your child is already in Grade R, at your chosen school, then they will get preference when it comes to Grade 1 applications. The other reason is that parents want their children to have a headstart and an advantage over their peers. I must warn you that putting your child into Grade R prematurely is not wise and may not give your child a headstart at all. In fact, it may even backfire and have the opposite effect if they are not ready, or mature enough, to cope.

Parents dare not ignore the importance of this year for childhood development, school readiness and the building of a strong foundation for the development of language learning & literacy development. However, not all Grade R classrooms are made equal and you need to ensure you find a good one.

The role of the home environment

If you listen to what some parents are saying and their versions of how they approach schools and teachers, it is evident that parents believe that education is solely the responsibility of the school. They, therefore, believe that if their child is not doing well it is entirely the school’s fault. There are so many problems that arise from this type of thinking, however, there are good reasons for why it exists, which I won’t go into now. However, I want to challenge this thinking because after more than 20 years in the field of education I know that success is about teamwork and collaboration between the home and school and that this teamwork results in academic success and highly literate children, who grow up to be employable and have great prospects in their chosen field.

The home environment plays a critical role in providing stimulation, a love of learning, a good work ethic, as well as the development of emergent language & literacy skills. If the adults surrounding a child set a good example and, through their behaviour, send the message that reading and literacy skills are important, then the child will ultimately think so too.

A parent’s attitude towards education, the school and teachers can have a significant impact on a child’s views on attending school and learning. So be careful what you say in front of them and be aware of the behaviour & attitudes you demonstrate.

Raising Literate Children

“Learning to read for meaning is the most critical skill children learn in primary school. It is the skill upon which all other skills depend.” (Nic Spaull, Jan 2019). From Grade 1-3 children are expected to learn-to-read and to achieve being able to read for meaning. From Grade 4 onwards they should be able to read-to-learn. Little to no time is spent on developing reading skills after Grade 3. You will need to make an investment in a remedial intervention or pay an English teacher/tutor to assist your child in catching up. This has long term ramifications for your child’s self-confidence and your own time and money.

Literacy development is a team effort between the school and the home and the sooner you start the better. It is a daily task that slowly builds up to the acquisition of the desired skills and ability. There is no shortcut. There is no crash course and no quick fix. You can’t totally outsource it. The child loses out if one party is not doing its bit on a daily basis. It is a daily slog and grind, which if you commit to ultimately results in the gift of literacy, that can never be taken away.

Do you know & understand what it takes to raise literate children or are you just winging it in the hope that your child has a successful journey through 13 years of schooling? Are you going to leave your child’s literacy development solely up to a confused and ailing education system or are you, as a father or mother, personally going to contribute? Are you going to make sure that your child does not miss out?

Wouldn’t you rather find out NOW about

  • your role as a parent in the development of literacy skills
  • the ins and outs of Grade R
  • how Grade R helps build a foundation for future literacy (reading, writing, speaking and understanding)

Don’t play Russian Roulette. ATTEND one of my upcoming WORKSHOPS and find out all you need to know about brain development, school readiness, Grade R & developing literacy in your child as you close some of the gaps in your knowledge. These workshops are aimed at parents with children aged 3-5 years old (either in Grade R already or going into Grade R in the next couple of years).

These workshops are how I help parents of young children make certain that they find a good fit for Grade R and that they lay the most solid foundations for literacy that they possibly can, without leaving anything to chance. Grade R is now seen as the entry point into the school’s foundation phase, in which your child will learn-to-read and develop a solid foundation for learning at school. It is my job to show you, through these workshops, how to ensure that this happens so that by the end of Grade 3 your child is ready for reading-to-learn rather than still learning-to-read. 

If these are your goals too, then join me at one or more of my workshops and become informed on how YOU can positively contribute to your child’s education and future academic success.

See the ‘Workshops’ tab for upcoming dates.

References

Spaull, N. (Jan 2019). Priorities for education Reform (Background Note for Minister of Finance 19/01/2019. (13 November 2019) <https://nicspaull.com/2019/01/19/priorities-for-education-reform-background-note-for-minister-of-finance-19-01-2019/#comments>

Further reading

To explore working with Lianne in Randburg / Sandton and other areas in Johannesburg, contact her for a consultation to discuss how she can assist you.

Articles, Literacy, Reading

Join a public library in South Africa today.

Bookshelves filled with books with the word READ written in front.

Join a public library- it’s easy.

What you will need to join a public library

  • ID documents
  • Proof of residence
  • A legal guardian must accompany a child who wants to join
  • Children will need to show their birth certificates

If you have all the correct documents

  • A library card will be issued to you. 
  • In some provinces you have to wait for 5 days after application before you can collect your library card.
  • For those wishing to take four or less books at any one time, membership is FREE.
  • For those wanting to take more than four books, it will cost +/- R30 per year for membership. 
  • The librarian will explain the rules to you.

Libraries improve community literacy levels

Libraries are community hubs that allow for leisure & education, giving community members access to books, magazines and in some cases audio-visual materials. In communities where residents are unable to afford books, the local library can play a very important role in developing and improving literacy levels within the community. Libraries are an invaluable resource and they are often under-utilised.

When you join a public library you will discover that many libraries run reading and storytelling sessions on a weekly basis as well as during during the holidays. Find out where your local library is and what activities they offer.

I’d like to tell you a bit about some of the wonderful libraries I have experienced.

Sandton Public Library

I personally love the Sandton Library, located on Nelson Mandela Square. It is a beautifully lit, multi-storey space with lots of interesting nooks and crannies. A variety of seating and tables to work at throughout the building, make it the perfect place to spend some down time or do some research.

There is a separate section for children. Pre-school children have their own enclosed room with a conveniently located bathroom right there.

The staff are wonderfully friendly and helpful. As libraries go it is well worth a visit. They do run special events for children during the holidays, which they advertise on their entrance boards.

Emmarentia Public Library

The Emmarentia Library on Barry Hertzog Avenue is a small, almost quaint space with convenient parking. I love this library. It is frequented by many children living in the area.

The librarians are friendly and are very keen to get community involvement going. Speak to them for further information or if you have fantastic ideas to share.

Check opening times here.

Johannesburg Main Library

Johannesburgs public library – known as the Johannesburg Main Library – is based in the city centre, in Market Street. It has over 1.5-million books in its collection and has a reported membership of over 250 000. It was first opened in 1935. Due to planned extensive upgrades it closed in 2009 for three years, and was opened again in 2012.

When visiting you will see a beautiful, Italianate structure sitting across the road from the ANC’s Luthuli House. There is a coffee shop located on the premises. The toilets, lifts, electrics and air-conditioning were upgraded in 2009. The new library contains three floors. Of the three floors, the first two floors are a literacy and numeracy centre. There are desks to work at and free internet access is available.

Check opening times here.

Port Elizabeth City Library

This library is one of my all time favourites. I spent much time here as a student and later as an adult, mainly because I loved the building so much. Each time I return to Port Elizabeth I make a point of popping in.

Unfortunately, for now, it is being renovated, and renovations should be completed in 2021. It is the only historic building built as a public library that is still operating as a public library today.

Currently closed for renovations.

Further reading

To read my last article called “Develop a culture of reading in your home”, which is Part 3 in a series of articles, please click here.

To explore working with Lianne in Randburg / Sandton and other areas in Johannesburg, contact her for a consultation to discuss how she can assist you.