'Waiting to fail?': An open letter to grade R teachers and ECD practitioners

You have an awesome responsibility to get children “ready for school”
You have an awesome responsibility to get children “ready for school”

Philippa Fabbri is a local Education Consultant with a special interest in assisting children, and their parents, who struggle to learn in the conventional way. Here she shares her thoughts on preparing young children for formal schooling.  

Dear grade R teachers and ECD practitioners,

You have an awesome responsibility to get children 'ready for school'. Some children fly through their pre-primary years and simply can’t wait for 'big school' but others don’t’.


A report titled The State of Literacy Teaching and Learning in the Foundation Phase was released in 2012.

Researched and compiled by the National Education and Evaluation Unit (NEEDU), an independent institution that analyses the state of schools in South Africa and identifies the factors necessary for quality schooling, the report concluded that the primary reason for education failure in the foundation phase was that a large proportion of South African teachers can’t teach, and many won’t make the effort required to do so.

This is an alarming fact.

There are several variables at work, including home circumstances, but there is also another very important one that doesn’t seem to be addressed in this report.

The fact is that one in every seven children will struggle to learn, and may have learning barriers, therefore early intervention is the key.

Teachers (and parents) must not play the 'wait and see' game. There is no time.

If there is concern about certain developmental delays that are noticed or unusual behaviours in the child, rather err on the side of caution and seek advice.

If nothing is done, the cracks just get wider and the gaps are more difficult to fill.

If you, as a teacher, are concerned about the development of any child, please refer them to one of the following professionals...

An Occupational Therapist will:

  • Help kids work on fine motor skills so they can grasp and release toys and develop good handwriting skills 
  • Address hand-eye coordination to improve kids' play skills (hitting a target, batting a ball, copying from a blackboard, etc.) 
  • Help kids with severe developmental delays learn basic tasks (such as bathing, getting dressed, brushing their teeth, and feeding themselves)
  • Help kids with behavioural disorders learn anger-management techniques (i.e., instead of hitting others or acting out, using positive ways to deal with anger, such as writing about feelings or participating in physical activity).Teach kids with physical disabilities the coordination skills needed to feed themselves, use a computer, or increase the speed and legibility of their handwriting.
  • Evaluate a child's need for specialized equipment, such as wheelchairs, splints, bathing equipment, dressing devices, or communication aids.
  • Work with kids who have sensory and attention issues to improve focus and social skills.

A speech therapist will:

  • Work with a child one-on-one, in a small group, or directly in the classroom to overcome difficulties involved with a specific disorder.

They use a variety of strategies, including:

Language intervention activities:

The therapist will interact with a child by playing and talking, using pictures, books, objects, or ongoing events to stimulate language development.

The therapist may also model correct pronunciation and use repetition exercises to build speech and language skills.

Articulation therapy:

Articulation, or sound production, exercises involve having the therapist model correct sounds and syllables for a child, often during play activities.

The level of play is age-appropriate and related to the child's specific needs.

The therapist will physically show the child how to make certain sounds, such as the "r" sound, and may demonstrate how to move the tongue to produce specific sounds.

Oral-motor/feeding and swallowing therapy:

The therapist will use a variety of oral exercises — including facial massage and various tongue, lip, and jaw exercises — to strengthen the muscles of the mouth.

The therapist also may work with different food textures and temperatures to increase a child's oral awareness during eating and swallowing.

Quality intervention 

The early identification of barriers followed by quality intervention is a gift for a child and ensures that they succeed to the best of their ability.

All role players including teachers, parents, doctors and therapists need to work collaboratively, communicate regularly and constantly up-skill themselves to achieve the goal of quality education.

A child should not have to wait to fail before they are helped.


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