An innovative early literacy project (in photos)

Khayalethu is an ECD centre for 120 children aged 0–5 in Vrede, a small town in the heart of South Africa’s agricultural Free State province.

Two years ago, Khayalethu was invited to participate in the Nal’ibali StoryPlay project. Nal’ibali is a South African literacy programme and StoryPlay is a technique the programme uses in early learning centres and schools to get children excited about reading.

Nal’ibali StoryPlay uses dance, drama and singing to get children involved in the storytelling process.

“We encourage children’s imagination by getting them to act out stories they have heard in class or ones they have made up,” says Malifu Moloi (below, in the orange overalls), who introduced the StoryPlay workshops in Khayalethu.

Malifu is not a teacher or Early Childhood Development practitioner. She is a participant in government’s Community Work Programme, which creates job opportunities for people living in poverty.

Participants in the Community Work Programme wear distinctive orange overalls. They are paid by government to do useful work in communities. Sometimes they receive training to do the work from a private partner; in this case the partner was Nal’ibali.

The Nal’ibali StoryPlay programme is addressing an important need in Vrede because it addresses literacy problems at the source — during early childhood. Complex brain networks responsible for language and reading begin forming before birth. The more spoken language young children hear, the better these networks will develop. Storytelling exposes children to spoken language and encourage the understanding of words.

Malifu says that the children who have taken part in the programme and moved onto formal schooling are doing better than their peers. She hopes that Nal’ibali can extend to more centres and benefit more children. So far, 100 centres, or 5073 children, are taking part in the Free State.

If you enjoyed this photo essay, you may like to read our longer length article about the Nal’ibali — Community Work Programme partnership in the Free State.