Across the developing world, fewer than 20% of children have access to early childhood care and education services.
This flies in the face of the overwhelming evidence that early life experiences have a significant impact that persists well into adulthood and that investing in quality early childhood care and education can play a vital part in improving children’s life chances.
We know that early childhood education programs result in easier transitions to primary, better retention and completion rates, increased social equality and higher economic returns.
In recognition of the fact that parents and families are the first and principal educators of their children, there is a growing recognition of the potential of community based parenting education as a key approach to improving the quality of children’s learning and development opportunities before they start school.
In Rwanda, the Philippines and Cambodia Save the Children is implementing one such program First Read which aims to provide parents and carers with the skills, confidence and materials to support the development of their children’s vital pre-reading skills.
Laying the foundations for literacy
From the earliest moments of their lives children develop concepts, behaviours and attitudes that are the developmental foundation for later skilled reading and writing. These varied roots of reading development are often described as emergent literacy skills and include talking and listening, understanding words and sounds, alphabet knowledge, concepts of print and knowing what books are.
Through four pillars, namely book development, book gifting, family learning and community action First Read offers a systematic way to help parents learn about and apply that knowledge to support their children develop these crucial skills.
Pillar One: Developing books for young readers and their families
Access to high quality, local language children’s books is essential if young children are to develop their vital pre-reading skills. But in developing countries books for very young children are rare.
First Read is working to support a vibrant children’s book industry by providing training and capacity building to local illustrators, authors and publishers.
The program subsequently agrees to purchase the books, using an advance market commitment and the participants in our training and capacity building go on to publish them.
These books are available in the local market and First Read also works to support publishers identify additional ways to sell their titles.
Pillar two: Giving books to children and their families
Despite the importance of books in strengthening children’s awareness of print and knowledge many children in developing countries have never seen a book before they start school, let alone owned one.
First Read gifts families with young children the high quality, local language children’s books that the program supports publishers to develop.
We want children to benefit from easy access to books at home.
Pillar three: Supporting families to learn together
Books on their own are insufficient to guarantee learning because in many low literate contexts parents won’t have the skills and confidence to share a book with their children.
First Read consequently provides the parents and carers of young children with the opportunity to come together to learn new skills that they can use to support their children’s learning.
Using evidence about what works to support children’s emergent literacy skills we help parents and carers to incorporate talking, singing, counting and sharing books into their day to day interactions with their children.
Pillar four: Supporting communities to close the learning gap of the early years
Parents and carers that participate in parenting education programs like First Read report seeing first hand, significant differences in their children as a result of applying the new techniques that they have learnt. This is often the start of a virtuous circle in which parents are keen to expand the learning opportunities available to their children.
Whilst parent-child interactions are crucial, children particularly after the age of 2, also benefit from interacting with each other in small groups.
Harnessing the increased demand for early learning and recognizing the benefits of children learning together First Read also works with parents and the communities from which they come to design and implement new care and educational services for their children before they start school. These include play groups, storytelling and, where demand exists and resources are available, even formal centre based early childhood programs.
The case for expanding and improving early childhood care and education programmes in the developing world is unambiguous including easier transitions to primary, better retention and completion rates, increased social equality and higher economic returns
Supporting the development of a vibrant local children’s book sector and providing families with books, along with support to use them effectively, offers in our experience a simple and scalable way of ensuring more children and families enjoy those benefits.