The new year has started and as parents and caregivers we are preparing our children for the start of the new school year. Our children are transitioning from one grade to another and from one phase to another, and each phase or grade has its new challenges. I can see from social media updates that parents are already getting anxious about helping their children with the dreaded homework which often causes fights and frustrations between children and the parents. My advice to parents is that they should take homework as revision of the day’s lessons, and that their role is to oversee the children in completing the practice exercises teachers gave them to help to establish a work routine for themselves.
However, homework aside, an essential role that parents should play in the education of their children is to inculcate a culture of reading. Their role is not to become school teachers to their children, but to nurture a love of reading with them. It is to help their children reach the ‘reading zone’ that Nancy Atwell writes about – the zone that gets us ‘hooked on a book until dawn’.
Richard Allington once wrote about how the summer school holidays cause a slump in our children’s reading habits. During holidays, there are far too many activities competing with our children’s reading time that can tamper with established routines. My own children bragged about watching television until the early hours of the morning at their dad’s place. Meanwhile, I was thinking, if they were at my place, where there is no television, they would be reading until midnight. This summer holiday slump in reading is real for our young readers, as they navigate spaces where reading is not the primary activity. It becomes even more challenging for children who are not readers.
So, how do we set ourselves up for the new year and to re-establish reading routines?
One of the ways is to use Nal’ibali’s 2018 literacy calendar. Designed not only to help adults set up and sustain a habit of reading with their children, but to enable them to build their own mini children’s libraries together by collecting all the cut-out-and-keep stories that will appear in every edition of the campaign’s bilingual reading-for-enjoyment supplement this year. Children who collect every edition of the supplement – find them either in selected newspaper titles or downloading them from the Nal’ibali website – will be able to collect a minimum of 30 cut-out-and-keep story books.
Nal’ibali publishes its supplements in six different language combinations and will be introducing Xitsonga and Setswana to this list this year and initiatives such as Abantu Book Festival ensure that children have access to books. The recent PIRLS study has reported that since 2006, children who have leisure books in the home tend to do better in reading assessments. However, we all know that it is easier to buy books than to find time to read them, and to ensure that children get the most out of them.
Therefore, we must ensure that just as our children play with toys at home, that we add books and stories to the mix. Many children enjoy playing with books and their parents. Playing with books with adult supervision can help children familiarise themselves with books, to discuss pictures and to attempt to read for themselves as well as to learn how to handle books.
Another thing that should help us set up the year for ourselves is to remember to make reading a part of the family’s daily life, by making every opportunity a reading opportunity. This means adults should be reading for themselves as well as to their children and acting as reading role models for them. Children observe our reading practices and in turn try to emulate them as they read for themselves.
We as adults need to lead and show by example.
Xolisa Guzula is a lecturer in multilingual and multi-literacies education at the University of Cape Town. She is also a mother, storyteller, author, translator of children’s literature and an early literacy specialist.