Saturday, September 10, 2011

Grade R course making a huge difference in Tembisa

Every Tuesday Lilandi and I run GrR (Gr 0) classes at Aphiwe. We came to the realization on how desperately necessary these courses were when we were visiting the various play centres on Friday mornings.

Due to various circumstances a lot of GrR children do not receive formal preparation for school (be it due to finances, overcrowding at schools, transport problems, local primary schools not having the facilities, parents ignorance) - and thus when they are tested for school readiness they appear stupid, 'slow', unlearned. This is not the case. It is more because they have not been exposed to any of the tests previously; a language problem (for example words like second, third, before, after are not easy words to understand if English is not your first language); lack of proper worksheets and programs from the teachers themselves.
The GrR program that we follow then encourages macro-movement (through games, music, outdoor play) and a lot of singing (with accompanying movements and teaching new English words which are often used in school readiness tests (example: forwards, backwards, left, right, top, bottom, front, behind). We especially try to focus on concepts like sequencing, visual and auditory perception, cross-lateral movement, eye-foot co-ordination and balance. Each month we expose the children to a different area in the school readiness program. The teachers of the GrR's are encouraged to join in with all the activities and yet at the same time do observation and assessment of the abilities of their own GrR's. Quite a challenge - as it is a massive learning curve for all of them as well.

When we started we thought we would have 30 children max per Tuesday. The idea was that grR teachers (together with their GrR's) from various play centers would come to Aphiwe for a 2 hour session where Lilandi and Leona would run the classes - and then these activities would be practiced for the rest of the month back at the individual play centers. The new knowledge gained would hopefully also be exposed to the 4 year olds and give guidance to the teachers on what they actually need to focus on.
Well - we soon had to start rearranging our program. The need was so great that we ended up with a maximum of 70 (strictly enforced from our side) children per Tuesday (which we teach in 2 consecutive 2 hour slots) from 29 different play centers. In a month we thus teach on average 250 - 270 children. Our lessons also needed to be simplified even more - as many of the activities and concepts taught were totally foreign to the children and teachers. Every Tuesday we comprehend how blessed we are with our first world background, exposure to educational toys and equipment from a young age, encouragement of movement and exploration from a young age - and how vital this is during the first 6 years of a child's life.
We are thoroughly enjoying ourselves; the children love it; the teachers are exhausted (not used to having to hop like a bunny or jump like a frog!).

And most rewarding the feedback that we are getting : "You are making a difference." "The children are more confident when exposed to worksheets." "Us teachers are now more focused and have direction. We have a monthly goal to work for."

How thankful we are that we able to have a small role to play in the lives of these young children, and hopefully help them to become confident, responsible future citizens for our beautiful country.

Leona Scheepers


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