A Twist in the Tail for township kids: Meet Chloe De La Harpe, children’s literacy activist and head of the ‘Story Tails’ initiative
Nal’ibali Column 19: Term 4. Originally published in the Daily Dispatch (4 December 2017) and Herald (7 December 2017)
By Carla Lever
Tell us a little about the work you do.
I work with building remedial classes within schools and after school programmes with children in Imizamo Yethu: an informal settlement in the greater Hout Bay Valley in Cape Town. This year, we relocated into an informal crèche within the township itself. We focused on the 4-6 year olds with emergent literacy in isiXhosa. We work with two incredibly passionate isiXhosa-speaking local teachers, both of whom are currently studying through UNISA. We have found the children grasped the isiXhosa letters and sounds easily and at a wonderful speed. They’ll be entering school next year with a great foundation for literacy in their home language.
You’ve said before that your primary role as a teacher is to advertise books – enthusiastically and incessantly. Why is that?
I read a survey once that changed my life. It stated that the one factor that affects a child more than reading to them is living in a home where parents read for their own personal enjoyment. I’d never heard this before. I wanted to jump up in public and shout out loud! It was my ‘AHA moment’! Everything else in our life is marketed: clothes and technology and hair products, but reading is never marketed. I truly believe the saying that ‘no child is born a reader: an adult makes a child a reader’ and so it is our job, as an adult or teacher, to advertise books!
You bring such a range of creative approaches to learning activities – you make it a form of play. Tell us about some of those.
What we truly wanted to look at was how to create a desire to read – for a child to grow the motivation to pick up a book independently of being told to do it. So two ways we attempt this are through The Cocoa Club and Story Tails.
The Cocoa Club was a small, read aloud book club with blankets, pillows and hot chocolate among school-age kids. Club members got warm and comfortable and slurped noisily as all of us read aloud to each other. The feeling of exclusivity, of being part of ‘a family’ and sharing a safe space created the perfect environment, but it was the books donated to us by FUNDZA that really stole the show. Stories written by locals about local township experiences just amazed and hooked the students immediately! It was lovely to see a list of students wanting to be in the Cocoa Club grow and grow – I’m pretty devastated that we won’t have enough funding to carry this project on in 2018.
We will be carrying on our Story Tails project, though, and it’s a real winner! Students visit with the wonderful DARG animal shelter in Hout Bay and do facilitated story time with the cats and dogs, making the experience a real treat. Additionally, DARG selects special Reading Assistant Dogs which I take into one local primary school library to sit and listen to shy students read during story time. There’s no listener as non-judgemental as a dog and anxious students really respond to reading aloud to them! We are so grateful here to be donated books by the awesome Book Dash charity for this project, who have them in a fantastic range of languages.
So to look back on our goals: there’s a special experience, there’s a new association to reading and there’s the adult joining in by reading their own books alongside everyone else.
Where do you access new books? What resources do you make use of?
We have been hugely lucky to receive resources from Fundza, Book Dash, Word Works and much help from Shine on launching. I love the way all the projects share the same goal and same love!
Do you find that having access to books in the kids’ mother tongue makes a big difference in how they are able to engage?
I am a massive fan of mother tongue books and the need for mother tongue story time as early as possible. I personally have found they make a huge difference! I adore the childrens’ wonder, enjoyment and sparkle in their eyes. Every day I do this is rewarding.
Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit: www.nalibali.org.