Almost half of households in SA do not have reading books for children, the UN International Children’s Fund said.

This comes from a joint study between  Unicef SA and the department of basic education on “Caregiver knowledge, attitudes and practices on play-based learning in children from birth to  six years old”.

The study was released ahead of World Play Day,  which is celebrated on May 28. The day recognises the power of play  for child development. It  talks about sustainability, encouraging caregivers and children to consider the environment around them, the toys they play with, and the tools they use.

Toby Fricker,  Unicef’s spokesperson, said the study highlights the importance of the first 1,000 days of life.

“It’s important because the child’s brain develops quickly at this point in their life and if nurtured, reading stories and playing with their child can help them get the best start-up,” said Fricker.

The study included 1,422 caregivers and parents from different provinces in SA. They were given a survey to highlight how much they play with their children, what challenges they face, and how they understand the importance of play on their child’s well-being.

“Qualitative and quantitative samples were taken from caregivers and parents from rural and urban areas, as well as different ages. The study sought to gain a holistic understanding of how caregivers and parents understand the value of play and how it affects their child’s well-being,” explained Fricker.

Some 58% of caregivers surveyed noted that they had books available, but only 32% used them regularly, and storytelling was rarely used in play and learning with their children.

Fricker said the most important details in this text are that the vast majority of respondents said they played with their children at some point, but some parents and caregivers didn’t understand the importance of play and how it could help their children learn.

“Additionally, 43% of households don’t have a book at home and don’t read or do stories with their child, which may be due to lack of access to books or not thinking it’s beneficial for their child. Additionally, the findings showed that the number of parents who draw with their children or do art with them is lower than expected, as it can help children develop problem-solving skills and other skills,” said Fricker.

Fricker said they were unsure whether the percentage had increased or decreased.

“I can’t say exactly whether the percentage has gone up or down because I haven’t got a comparative study to look at, to be honest, this study provides a more up-to-date baseline post the Covid-19 pandemic, which affected children and people in a broad holistic way,” Fricker said.

The findings come on the back of the “Progress in International Reading Literacy Study” (PIRLS) released this month, which noted that 81% of Grade 4 learners in SA were not able to read for meaning.

Fricker said it was important to follow this up to see how Unicef worked with the Lego Foundation in SA and the department of basic education to improve the statistics and for parents to understand the importance of reading and play.

The study highlighted the lack of safe spaces for children to play, such as at home, which could lead to domestic violence and physical punishment. Creative ways to provide safer spaces in the community, such as churches, parks and playgroups, were needed.

Fricker said the most important detail in the text was  about efforts to raise awareness among caregivers, parents, and early childhood development practitioners of the importance of nurturing children and using play as a structured approach.

“A national parenting programme, CD mobi app, and the powerful learning around you course aim to emphasise the importance of play and how children can learn through it. These initiatives aim to make people aware of the importance of play and how children can learn through it,” said Fricker.


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