By Elias Hakizimana.
Many people cannot believe that children learn since they are conceived, hearing their parents’ voices or other sounds that help their brain to develop.
Studies shown that the foundations for literacy and learning are formed in the first six years of life.
According to UNESCO’s global monitoring report 2013-2014, more than 250 million children lack foundational skills in reading, that prevents them from fully benefiting from primary education.
“The foundations for literacy and learning are formed in the first 6 years of life, also characterized by development of 80% of the human brain. Early access to age appropriate literacy materials is critical for emergent literacy development,” experts says.
Beline Abiyingoma, the community facilitator in umuhuza organization that promotes peace through parenting education and early literacy among the families gives a testimony as herself is a parent who has successfully helped her younger child to learn since she knew she was pregnant.
“In our organization, we cater for 0-3 year-old children as we found that the kid’s brain develops in first three years. Myself as a mother of three, I did an experience for one of my children to see how this is possible. Since my five year-0ld daughter was in berry, I and her father used to sing for her to help her brain grow well. After she was born, I used to play with her and feed her. At six months, I started reading for her by showing him various books of images of colors, fruits, animals, clothes and this is helping a lot in her education since she joined primary school,” she said.
Abiyingoma advises parents to follow the same discipline as it helps children to distinguish animals, vegetables and prepares for their education.
“Parents are the first teachers of their children. A parent is not only the mother; fathers also should understand this as their responsibility to help their children read at their early age. We use to teach parents to make books using traditional things such as boxes, a needle, thread, scissors or razor and they put in the contents of normal things children see every day at home,” she said.
Abiyingoma works with a project dubbed “Intera za mbere” that is supported by Save the Children Rwanda to train parents how to help their children read at their early age.
The project works currently in Ngororero and Gasabo District in Rutunga, Kacyiru and Kimihirura sectors. She said that parents are understanding the rationale of this initiative and participate where they come with children to read books together and learn more things that help them to grow a sustainable family.
Experts say that “Reading and sharing stories can help a child get to know sounds, words and language, and develop early literacy skills. Babies won’t understand your words, but hearing your voice stimulates an interest in sounds and helps him/her develop listening skills. Plus, no matter what your baby’s age, reading together is a great opportunity for cuddling and bonding,”
The baby book industry in East Africa is largely undeveloped with very few age-appropriate emergent readers available on the market and some parents are not eager to nurture a reading culture in their children at an early age.
Rwanda Government with partners in education is promoting early childhood education through various initiatives.
Speaking during the baby book exhibition in Kigali on October 5, 2018, Dr. Anitha Asiimwe, the National Coordinator of the National Early Childhood Development Program (NECDP) urged parents to take the culture of reading for a baby when it is still in the mother’s belly.
“It was revealed that the baby’s brain develops faster in first 1000 days, reason why we found that reading a book for the baby since this period is better, we have a hope that this culture will be maintained among the parents,” Asiimwe said.
Philippe Adapoe, Save the Children Rwanda Country Director noted that there is a good progress with parents who are uneducated, “and at some points the children that the parents facilitated just have to provide space for others, and there is always somebody in the community who can read for them.” He said.
“We have a very good success story where children are teaching the parents and they are learning together, so, this is the dream that we have. Of course if parents read it is easier for the children because they can hear,” he added.
Adapoe commends father’s engagement in these initiatives as they take time and read for children. “I would not say that fathers are more engaged than mothers but they are coming; and we hope that their commitment will increase in coming years,” Adapoe noted.
Save the Children through the education program that focuses on beginning early, mastering foundational literacy skills and improving overall learning outcomes, works on both the demand and supply sides of the book chain to increase quality, quantity, access and use of baby books.
In May 2018, Save the Children provided training of local publishers, illustrators and writers on how to make high quality baby books.
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