Magadi laughs with delight as she tells of how her son, Matheatsie, a seven-year-old learner in Grade 2 at Moipone Primary in the Free State, completed a sum by himself for the first time. “It took me by surprise. We’d been playing maths games together, counting on his fingers, for a long time – and then, all of a sudden; he showed me how he had developed this new skill.”
Magadi and Matheatsie were participants in a programme introduced by BrainBoosters and the Kagiso Shanduka Trust, aiming to increase parents’ involvement in their children’s education. “It was a wonderful programme. At first, I felt a bit odd playing games - it seemed a bit childish. But helping him with his schoolwork brought us closer together. It helped me see things from his point of view; before, I would get impatient if he didn’t grasp a concept immediately. Now I see exactly what goes into his learning. It’s made a real difference to his schoolwork, too: he’s now excelling at school, and he enjoys his lessons more.”
Sancha Hein of BrainBoosters is not surprised to learn that Matheatsie benefited significantly from the programme. “Parent involvement in their child’s development and formal education is key to a child’s achievement and performance in their education.”
She explains that this is why BrainBoosters started focusing on supporting parenting skills and knowledge about their children’s development as far back as 2010. Kagiso Shanduka Trust’s (KST) partnership with BrainBoosters began when the latter was called upon to implement catch-up maths and reading programmes, implemented at several schools.
KST is a collaboration between Kagiso Trust and the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation (formerly Shanduka Foundation), which was formed to support government in fulfilling its mandate in education through a holistic approach, explains KST operations manager, Kaya Nyati. The Trust elected to focus on 16 schools in the Free State district of Motheo as part of this, and it was these schools that participated in the BrainBoosters programme.
Hein reports that the programme started parent meetings, comprising 16 icebreakers (usually games hosted on the sports field), followed by an in-class demonstration of the BrainBoosters programme. Thereafter, parents would play the two board games that were supplied as part of the parent packs given to each school.
Back at home, the programme required parents to assist their children with tasks detailed on a homework sheet. Tasks had to be completed every day for 12 weeks.
Hein notes that, internationally, parent participation of this nature has been shown to have a massive impact. She cites a United States research, based on the responses of participants in an American initiative called Parents as Teachers, which noted that with extra parental involvement, children from disadvantaged backgrounds displayed the same level of school readiness as children from more affluent areas. They further experienced fewer remedial issues, their homes contained more books, and their parents were inclined to be more up to date with their vaccination schedules.
Parents involved in the KST BrainBoosters programme seem to have gained similar benefits. Hein reveals that she has received feedback from many parents, observing how the programme has taught them how to help and support their children. Some say they have even learned more themselves from taking part in the initiative. They’ve also noticed a difference in their children: with some indicating their children are now less shy, and take pride in being the first to raise their hands in the classroom. They see children who feel more confident, display greater self-esteem, and are eager to show off their new skills to their parents. Almost all parents have commented on the improvement they have seen in their children’s schoolwork - often, because they now see that learning is fun.
“The school readiness of every child is determined by the level of their parent’s involvement,” Hein says. “And yet, parents often don’t understand the importance of putting solid foundations in place before their children go to school.”
So, how can you, as a parent, get more involved in your child’s education? After all, in a time-pressured society, this is not always easy. The answer is heartening: parents need not brush up on their algebra and long division in order to make a lasting impact. In fact, something as simple as eating healthily during pregnancy can be effective, as it ensures appropriate brain development. As children grow older, arranging play dates can give them a chance to develop social skills and learn how to interact with other children. Interactive games can also have a positive impact: a simple game with building blocks will expose children to new ideas and help stimulate their thinking, which, contributes to creativity, vocabulary and fine motor development. It is also a good idea for reading to be part of an everyday routine. More than simply boosting a child’s vocabulary, this will instil a life-long love of books and a curious mind – true gifts that will help them navigate the increasingly complex world we live in.
Finally, parents are encouraged to actively engage with their children, to take time to have proper conversations with them. Listening to what children have to say will teach them about respecting others, and will ensure they are opening to hearing about ideas.
Often, a child will remember teachers long after they have left the classroom; but even this dims in comparison to the lasting impression a parent can make in a child’s readiness and attitude to learning.
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For more about the Kagiso Shanduka Trust, refer to www.kst.org.za.
Photo Courtesy: bettersmarterkids.com