Turn off the sport reruns and put down the braai tongs – interacting with your child could be the most powerful thing you do during COVID-19, writes Kwanda Ndoda.
As any sound Asset Manager will tell you: all crisis begets opportunity! Even though COVID-19 has restricted our movements, this doesn’t mean we have to stand still and stagnate. With two more weeks to go of lockdown to go – and the likelihood that educational facilities may remain closed beyond this point – we have the opportunity to engage with our children more than ever before. Many parents assume that learning begins and ends at school, or that engaging with children is solely women’s work. The reality is that the home environment is where the foundations for a child’s learning is laid and fathers play a vital role in their children’s development – starting with play.
A substantial body of research shows there is a link between play and the development of cognitive and social skills that are the prerequisites for learning complex concepts, as children get older. Harvard’s Centre of the Developing Child notes that a critical ingredient in this process of brain development is the frequency and quality of interactions between children and their parents, and others in their home and community. Therefore, if we can commit to increasing the quality and quantity of playful interactions with our children, we have a powerful resource to stimulate our children’s development. Adding male caregivers to the mix – be it fathers, uncles, or older brothers – can yield even greater rewards, with numerous studies showing a positive male role model helps children’s development in many ways, from language and cognitive growth in toddlerhood to social skills in teenagers.
To help harness the playful nature of father-child interactions, we spoke with two specialist ECD organisations and their implementers about simple ways male caregivers can turn lockdown into child’s play.
Bonga Masina, Toy Librarian from the Ntataise Lowveld Trust
As a toy librarian, Bonga’s job is to visit children who attend Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres and home and community-based playgroups, bringing toys for the children to play with, fixing toys that have broken, and engaging the children in ’play learning’. His tips for guided play are:
- Let your child lead the play – leverage their interest in specific topics or objects and ask probing questions to expand their imagination and understanding, for example, compare textures and colours of things around the house.
- Do not place too much emphasis on your child being right. If s/he draws a pig and insists the picture is a pig but looks more like a snake, ask them why their pig looks so skinny, for example.
- Give your child the opportunity to be independent. This is where probing questions are crucial; you want to allow your child to answer questions (or even ask their own probing questions to your questions).
Kaathima Ebrahim, CEO of Mikhulu Trust
The Mikhulu Trust us an organisation that trains in dialogic book-sharing – an early learning technique in which children and caregivers talk to each other about pictures in books, and develop stories together, which helps children develop pre-literacy skills and a love for books. If practised well and for long enough, dialogic book-sharing increases the odds of your child developing a love for reading. Kaathima explains: “Book-sharing is a fun and simple activity that any caregiver can do with their young child (aged 1 – 6 years). Simply put, it is an engaging interaction using a wordless picture book.” To practise this technique at home, she advises that:
- During book sharing, allow your child to point to, and talk about the things that interest them in the wordless book.
- Your role as the adult is to pay attention to what the child is focused on, and to support these interests by asking questions, and saying more about what the child is focused on.
- Keep at it, Regular and frequent book-sharing provides the motions and “muscle memory” required to facilitate reading. The wordless picture books mean even an illiterate caregiver to conjure up the storyline using the pictures.
- As your child progresses, you can begin to introduce single word pictures and progress to full sentences describing the pictures. One does not strictly require wordless picture books to do book-sharing successfully, either – anything your child shows interest in can provide a way to engage them in a meaningful, play-based way e.g. cereal box with bright pictures or a magazine.
For more information, resources and guidance to support your children’s learning and development at home, visit the following organisations:
Click here for SmartStart’s COVID-19 resources and guidelines.
Click here to take part in Nal’ibali’s 21 Day Story Challenge, as well as for free children’s stories and reading tips in all South African languages.
Contact the Mikhulu Trust and the Ntataise Lowveld Trust on their respective websites for more hints and tips.
This op-ed was first published on 09 April 2020 by City Press. View it here.
Kwanda Ndoda is an Innovation Manager at the DGMT in the All Children on Track portfolio.