Nal’ibali, the national reading-for-enjoyment campaign, has been bringing a special story to children to celebrate World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) for the past eight years. In the first year (2013), the campaign reached 13 000 children and in 2021, the goal is to read aloud to 3 million children in a single day.
Nal’ibali celebrates WRAD on Wednesday 3 February in 2021, to draw attention to the importance of reading aloud to children in their mother tongue. The NGO commissions a brand-new story – best suited for reading aloud to primary school children – and translates it into all 11 official SA languages.
This is an ongoing campaign to urge parents, teachers and caregivers to read aloud to the children in their lives. The announcement that schools will be opening two weeks later than anticipated means that learners will lose more schooling days in 2021. The Covid-19 pandemic meant learners lost valuable schooling time in 2020, and the importance of reading has become even more relevant, especially for primary school children.
The 2021 story and author
This year’s story is Fly, everyone fly! by Sihle Nontshokweni, the best-selling children’s author of Wanda (published in 2019). She says sharing stories with children can help them become resilient and brave in real-world situations. ‘The beauty of stories is their immersive nature, they allow children to enter a world in which they believe. In that sacred world, they can find the language and tools they need to deal with the pressures of the external world.’
Nontshokweni will be giving a special reading of the story, live on Nal’ibali’s Facebook page (@nalibaliSA) at 1.00 p.m on the day. Caregivers and their children are invited to join the digital read-aloud not only to hear the story, but to engage with the author and each other too.
Another champion of reading, Christina Nomdo, the Western Cape Children’s Commissioner, will also be giving a virtual reading of the story on the campaign’s page. The commissioner will be specifically highlighting the power of stories to set children up for success in school and life.
The power of stories, at home, at school and in the community
Reading underpins all school learning and children who read regularly perform better in the classroom, regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances. Stories can be shared anytime, anywhere so, wherever children and caregivers find themselves on Wednesday, 3 February, Nal’ibali is encouraging them to start or maintain a reading routine. This simple habit can be an invaluable investment in their futures.
Reading to babies and 3-6-year olds
Many caregivers do not realise the benefit of reading and sharing stories with children this young, but it is the children who were read to when they were very little who perform better in school, as they will have better developed their memories, vocabularies and comprehension skills.
Typically, Nal’ibali’s WRAD drive focuses on primary school children but this year, following the recent crisis in the early childhood development (ECD) sector, the Centre for Early Childhood Development and PRAESA (the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa) have come on board to help open up the day to preschool children and their caregivers as well.
“2020 saw the extended closure of ECDs during the national lockdown. The result of this is that many of these facilities have had to permanently shut their doors, leaving scores of young children bereft of early learning opportunities, meals and safety,” explains Eric Atmore, Director of the Centre for Early Childhood Development and Extraordinary Associate Professor in the Education Policy Studies Department at Stellenbosch University.
To help ensure these children are also able to benefit from the simple power of stories and join in the nationwide celebration, PRAESA has developed a short guide for caregivers on how to share Nal’ibali’s official WRAD story with children aged 3-6. The guide is available to download from the campaign’s website in seven official languages.
Nal’ibali is therefore inviting caregivers everywhere to read its story aloud to children of all ages, whether they find themselves at home, in the classroom or in the community.
Members of the public wishing to get involved can visit www.nalibali.org or WhatsApp ‘WRAD’ to 060 044 2254 to make their pledge and gain free access the official story and PRAESA’s guide to sharing the story with preschool children. They are also encouraged to share pictures of their read-aloud sessions online using the hashtag #MyWRAD2021.