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In the media

Quality is the key to Grade R


This article for the Cape Times looks at the importance of quality provision in Grade R. It describes how our STELLAR programme is helping to achieve just this by improving the teaching of early language and literacy in Grade R.

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Curriculum misses the mark


This article for the Mail&Guardian discusses the draft Birth to Four Curriculum Framework and urges government to invest more time in the development of the curriculum to ensure that it reflects best practice in ECD and is accessible to those who will be using it.

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Schooling alone won’t fix illiteracy


An article for the Mail&Guardian discussing the problems with the report by the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU) on literacy teaching in Grades 1-3.

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Simple activities have a huge impact


An article for the Cape Times looking at the main recommendations of the €˜Narrowing the Literacy Gap report.

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Policy briefs, reports and articles

Wordworks tries to make our key messages on early language and literacy accessible through a range of easy-to-read publications.

Why learning to read starts long before primary school


Our Director, Shelley O’Carroll, spoke to help2read about building literacy skills with children, including giving practical activities, before they start primary school.

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Much More than Counting: Mathematics Development between birth and five years


This joint report by Wordworks and the Schools Development Unit describes the different ways in which young children learn mathematics and the main mathematics learning strands.

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Narrowing the Literacy Gap: €“ Strengthening language and literacy development between birth and six years for children in South Africa


This report discusses why language development in a child’€™s first years is so important to later reading and writing skills.

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Narrowing the literacy gap: Making a case for the importance of early language and literacy development in South Africa


Provides a useful summary of our €˜Narrowing the Literacy Gap€™ report.

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Early language, literacy and mathematics learning: Why does it matter and who benefits?


This briefing looks at why the period between birth and five years is such a crucial formative time for a child, setting the trajectory for their school years and beyond. It explains how the benefits of investing in this period are deep and wide, providing the foundations not only for individual flourishing, but also for a successful education system, a stronger society, and more efficient public spending. We also discuss how high quality opportunities for language, literacy and maths learning have been shown to be an essential element of any successful early years programme, and consider how and why language is at the heart of all learning.

Download the Policy brief

Download the list of references

Early language and literacy: What skills and understanding do young children need?


This briefing looks at the skills and understanding that young children need in order to learn to read and write successfully. Improving knowledge of what these early literacy competencies are and how they can be nurtured in the home and other ECD settings must be a key part of any strategy to raise literacy rates in South Africa.

Download the Policy brief

Download the list of references

Early language and literacy: How do children learn and how can adults support them?

The third in our series of policy briefings looks at the ‘how to’ of language and literacy learning in the pre-school years. As well as considering the question of how children learn, this briefing looks at the vital role of adults, the specific activities that support early literacy, and the key features of an effective learning environment.


Download the Policy brief

Download the list of references

Article: An exploratory study of early letter-sound knowledge in a low socio-economic context in South Africa.

Shelley O’Carroll

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January 2017

Welcome back to another year of changing lives through literacy!

In our first newsletter of 2017, we look back at some of the highlights of a very busy 2016; and look ahead to 2017, which promises to be as fulfilling. See our infographic illustrating our reach in 2016, and read about WordNetworks to find out how you can join this expanding network.

Enjoy the read!

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Erina Muir: Grade R Teacher and STELLAR Lead Teacher

An interview with Erina about her experience with the Wordworks STELLAR programme.

*How long have you been a Grade R teacher?erina-muir-2

10 years

And how long at Oakhurst?

I introduced the first Grade R class at Oakhurst 5 years ago.

*What is it about teaching this age group that inspires and excites you?

I get to mould some part of their personalities while they are young and ‘mouldable’. They are absolute ‘sponges’, but it’s not just about the cognitive – it’s about looking at the whole child – and it’s so exciting to see their social interaction develop as well.

*How have your girls responded to the STELLAR stories and activities?

They have absolutely loved them! They get very excited about the role play. They use the vocab we have discussed. It’s the richness of the programme. They can take the stories and apply them to their real life. They have also enjoyed writing their own stories, and now I have a bigger group of girls than ever before who are willing to have a go at writing!

*What do you feel STELLAR has brought to your Grade R classroom?

It has brought a structure which is used as the basis for my home language slot. It makes it easy to work it into our daily programme. The Letter & Sound games and all the extra things are enjoyed, even during free play time. 

*Have you had any comments from any parents or any colleagues about the STELLAR component of your Grade R curriculum?

Yes! Parents say the girls are excited about reading their stories to their parents (though they didn’t think they would be). Erina has noticed that a bigger group than previously (about 20 out of the 24 in her class) are keen to have a go at reading. They read their little books and other books too!  Parents can’t believe that they are sounding out the words.  

*What was your feeling/response when you were asked to be a Lead Teacher for the ELIT project?

When we were informed, we didn’t really understand what we were being asked to do, or what the programme was all about. Two weeks on one story seemed too long and I thought the girls might get bored. However as I have worked in the STELLAR programme, I realise that there is so much you can do by way of extension to suit your group.

*And how did it play out? As you expected it would?

I discovered that because you deal with the story for two weeks, the extensions are deep and you can deal with them. The children initiate the extensions – and I allow them to lead me. It takes them to a point of self-initiated learning! There were discussions about the different kinds of buck, and the various members of the cat family.

*Can you share one or two highlights? Feel free to include challenges as well.

The role play was particularly successful. The girls found their voices, even if they were quiet. Because they knew what the characters said, they felt confident.

There was a lot of discussion and reasoning, for example they had to decide when Frog (a STELLAR story character) should go into Bushbuck’s house. 

Then also the repetition and consolidation of sounds that led to the girls being more confident. They started sooner in the year (than previously) to have a go at writing.

*Personal growth on this journey?

I have grown as a teacher. This programme has helped me to see how far you can extend the children… and then they go even further! I loved being a lead teacher.

Engaging with other teachers has been wonderful. When teachers are supported and encouraged, they will move from strength to strength.  I am a stronger person, more grateful for what I have, and more hopeful for education in this country. Having teachers helping teachers is the way of the future – not only for Grade R, but for education in general.

Regarding my interacting with the teachers: it made so much sense to discuss things, and then you know that those teachers are experiencing what you are talking about. You feel like they understand! We had spoken about the CAPS but it was only when we sat with the old and the new CAPS documents on the tables that the lights went on.  

I felt so energised after the Block training – seeing the dedication, the positivity, and the willingness to put it into practice. It was mind-blowing for me, and so very encouraging to see the calibre of the teachers.

As much as I have been able to give, I feel like I have just received so much more!

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October 2016

In our Point of View, Shelley O’Carroll makes a strong case for parents and caregivers to make small changes to their parenting to build vitally important language foundations for our children. After all, young children spend two thirds of their waking hours at home and with caregivers. We introduce a new, simple-to-use phone app called CareUp which guides parents of children aged 4-5. As always, we share the story of one of our literacy champions: Erina Muir talks about her journey with our STELLAR programme, and we celebrate an important STELLAR family. Sharing books and the love of books with children is essential to building literacy, so please read about and support our Storybook Fund!

Enjoy the read!

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Babette le Roux: Teacher and researcher

Babette le Roux

My name is Babette le Roux. As a teacher and a researcher I was troubled by the poor performance of South African learners in national and international literacy assessments. Knowing that early intervention is key, I directed my attention to ways of supporting informal learning opportunities at home.

That interest led to a doctoral study with the theme: The role of family literacy to support emergent literacy in young learners. The aim of the study was to investigate how family literacy programmes can assist to bridge the literacy gap between informal learning at home and formal learning in school so that young learners can come to school better prepared.

I implemented the Wordworks Home-School Partnership Programme and the outcomes confirmed a greater sense of community, improved confidence in parenting for literacy development, improvement in quality of parent-child interaction and a raised awareness of literacy learning opportunities at home. Implementation of the programme also strengthened the relationship of trust between parents and teachers and created a new level of confidence to approach the school whenever parents need to seek clarity on curriculum issues. The teacher-facilitators also reported less tension and stress around children’s reading in the classroom; that the children who had participated in the programme have much more confidence in the classroom and feel less intimidated by reading and learning.

Family Literacy Programmes have much to offer if we are serious about improved literacy outcomes.

Babette’s thesis can be found here:

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July 2016

Did you know that the brain develops faster between the ages of zero and three than at any other time! We have welcomed the recent policy focus on foundation learning, and in this newsletter, Wordworks adds to the discussions by looking specifically at early language and literacy learning at school and at home. In Point of View, Shelley O’Carroll makes an urgent appeal for a change to early literacy research agendas. “To find solutions to our literacy problems, we must start looking for the roots of literacy in the years from birth to six.”As usual, in this newsletter we also have practical advice for parents and caregivers, interesting information, and dates you may want to diarise.

Enjoy the read!

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March 2016

Our March Newsletter focuses largely on the exciting provincial roll out of our STELLAR Programme as part of a training partnership with the WCED. As usual we also have something to inspire – the story of a volunteer in KZN; something to educate – a tip for parents; a link to new materials on our website; – and this newsletter has a special offer for those who run our programmes! We have added a calendar of events to the Newsletter, and would appreciate your sharing significant dates in the early literacy field for our next edition.

Enjoy the read!

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Sheilagh Bill: Ready, steady… read and write co-ordinator

My story Sheilagh Bill

Here is another remarkable story by a member of the Wordworks network – this time from KZN. We are inspired by women like Sheilagh who, in their later years, believe they can make a difference and take the initiative to start a project.

Firstly many thanks to Wordworks for your inspiring programme and support. Without that I would never have got started on this venture. My name is Sheilagh Bill and I am the Co-ordinator of a “Ready, Steady, Read and Write” programme in KwaDabeka, Pinetown. I feel strongly that education is the key to uplifting our country and that reading skills are crucial. Now that I am retired I have time to give back and wanted to give children a helping hand. My background is in software development, so I have no teaching experience, but I do have a passion for reading. I wanted to join a project and heard about Wordworks from my daughter in Cape Town. It seemed just the right structured programme with all the resources provided to get started.

My friend Elaine, who is a teacher, agreed to join me and we approached our church for support. After the Wordworks training which was so interesting and helpful we started last year with 3 volunteers and have grown to 7 this year. We travel to the school where the principal welcomes us and we are building good relationships with the teachers. Fortunately our church, Westville Methodist, has a long association with the school and there is a group helping Grade R with some art and stories. All our volunteers are from our church and we have one Zulu lady who is a great asset as our biggest challenge is that most of us don’t speak isiZulu which is the home language of pupils and teachers.

We have chosen to focus our programme on First Additional Language (English). We work with Grade 2’s who have very little English although by Grade 4 the children are supposed to be taught in English.  We work on vocabulary to try and teach sounds and letters. The children are very shy to start but soon warm up and love coming to the sessions. It is hard to leave children out, but we can only take 28 out of 96 children in two Grade 2 classes.

Our volunteers are so dedicated and all love the programme and we have become a close knit team. We also started a school library last year and have collected about 600 books. It is still a work in progress and getting it to be used optimally is something I will be working on this year.

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Amanda Sickle: Literacy NPO manager

“I am Amanda Sickle, and I am an avid reader. Amongst other things, I believe in legacy and random acts of kindness.

I work full-time at a research organisation. In my ‘other time’ I manage an NPO, called The Reading Room, which I founded in 2012. Reading for enjoyment is in my nature, so I was horrified to learn that among Grade Three children, the national average performance in literacy was 35%; and in numeracy, 28% (Department of Education, 2012)

I started my ‘reading-assistance’ journey as a volunteer for Help2Read. The movie ‘The Reading Room’ inspired me to start reading assistance free-of-charge from my home, which soon became too small. We now lease retail space in Ottery – I pay for this from my salary. Ten volunteers, known as ‘reading buddies’, assist between 45-50 learners in Grades 1-12 every Saturday morning.

I stumbled upon Wordworks perchance while searching online for resources. I must confess I am hooked on their materials! They’re so easy to implement that I use them all the time. Wordworks also trained me to facilitate workshops to empower parents to support their children’s learning.

I see the difference all this makes to a child’s self-awareness and development and, of course, the school report is all the evidence I need to know that I must be doing something right! Often we need to step out of our comfort zones and just do it!!”