Get your child reading – it’s the key to success

by Tia

South Africa is facing a literacy problem. Eight out of 10 school children struggle to read by the age of 10, 81% of children cannot read for comprehension, and a majority of primary school children do not know all the letters of the alphabet.

South Africa ranks last out of 57 countries in literacy and our illiteracy rate keeps rising. Nkazimulo Zitha, head of Achievement at SPARK Schools, says fostering a culture of reading and instilling a love for the written word is both the education system and parents’ responsibility.

“Early childhood is a critical period for brain development – good brain health from an early age is directly linked to better mental health, cognition and educational success in later years. Language learning, which includes reading and discussing books, is a key factor in healthy brain development,” Zitha says.

Zitha says while experts believe various steps like promoting a reading culture, encouraging parents to read to their children, and making books more affordable and accessible certainly help in addressing the reading crisis, they also believe that the crisis can be averted by providing high-quality and affordable education for all.

SPARK Schools, a network of private schools offering affordable, globally competitive education, teaches reading for meaning from Grade R. While the complexity increases over time, scholars learn how to make inferences, ask questions, and make connections to the text from the beginning.

Zitha stresses that instruction in reading comprehension cannot begin only after a child reaches phonetic competence and fluency; it must be integrated from the outset.

“At SPARK Schools, literacy comprises nearly half of the instructional day in Grades R to 3. This is to ensure that scholars learn and practise reading and writing skills that they can confidently take with them into the intermediate phase and beyond.”

How to instil a love of reading

Zitha says reading is an exercise for the mind. “It helps children calm down and relax, it opens doors to new knowledge to enlighten their minds and it has been proven that children who read with comprehension grow up with better cognitive skills.”

The benefits of reading include:

  • Improved vocabulary.
  • Better comprehension.
  • Develops critical thinking skills.
  • Improves memory.
  • Improves analytical skills.
  • Improves results at school.

According to SPARK Schools, there are a few ways parents can encourage their children to read, and love it:

1: Read to them and with them

Even though life is quite hectic, carving out 30 minutes a day to read a book to and with your child has a positive impact on their social and emotional development.

2: Let them choose books they like

Allowing a child to pick up books that interest them makes reading fun and exciting. It is important to make sure a child understands what they are reading. So, when they read, ask them questions such as; What is the story about? Who are the characters in the book? And what they have learned from the story? This is a good way to see whether your child understands what they are reading and is developing critical thinking skills.

3: Lead by example

It is important that your children see you reading books. By starting a reading habit yourself, you will encourage your children to also want to read. Books, newspapers, magazines are all reading material.

“Literacy means freedom to learn, explore and thrive academically. It’s crucial that we help our children with this vital life skill,” says Zitha.

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