Research has shown that 90% of the human brain develops within the first five years of life making the early years of a child’s life crucial to unlocking their future potential.
But many children lack access to the kind of stimulating environment needed to set their cognitive and psychosocial development on the right path.
As the Covid-19 lockdown continues, many parents are worried that their children are missing critical learning and stimulation.
Add to this the fact that even before lockdown, according to Stats SA, almost half of South Africa’s children under six years old did not attend any form of preschool.
This makes free-to-air television programmes like Takalani Sesame, which reaches millions of children at home, more vital to early childhood development.
As this much-loved children’s show turns 20 next month, we are humbled to reflect on two decades of making early learning opportunities available to millions of South African children.
Yet they continue to face significant challenges.
Considering the trying times we are living in, it’s important that we recommit to our public-service role as catalysts for positive change among young people.
It’s an honour and responsibility we take very seriously.
Takalani Sesame is modelled on the award-winning Sesame Street (which turned 50 last year), and is informed by the South African early learning curriculum and research into children’s most pressing educational needs.
Through storytelling, music, movement, problem-solving and fun, the programme aims to help children grow smarter, stronger, and kinder, with engaging content rooted firmly in the values of Ubuntu.
At the core of Takalani Sesame’s ideology is learning through play.
In fact, there’s a special Playful Problem-Solving segment in the recently launched new season where Basma and Jad, Takalani’s two new Muppet stars, set about solving problems in a fun and engaging manner, making mistakes and learning from them along the way.
Through the cute, furry Muppet characters, Takalani Sesame encourages children to discover and explore the world around them – and to use everyday objects to create things and stimulate their imagination.
As a parent or caregiver, you can do a lot to help your child along in their journey of learning through play.
And no, you don’t have to buy toys to have meaningful playtime with your child.
You can use toilet roll tubes to make binoculars, boxes to construct a submarine, paper plates to craft a mask – the toy doesn’t have to be expensive to be fun.
Sing with them, involve them in cooking and chores, and read to them. Children learn best through interactivity.
Even simple acts such as being absorbed in colouring in a picture or being fixated on building a castle in a sandpit can add to a child’s development, as they are actively thinking and learning while having fun.
Takalani Sesame makes a big difference.
Research found that watching Takalani Sesame had a profound impact on three- to six-year-olds who were not in structured preschool programmes.
Children’s literacy, numeracy and life skills knowledge improved on average between 21% and 26% after watching 16 episodes of Takalani Sesame, confirming that the program makes a big difference.
Interestingly, the study showed that the greatest impact happened when the child watched the TV programme with an adult caregiver who interacted with them on what they were watching.
This is pivotal to the approach underpinning the program.
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In keeping with the findings of the research study, we encourage those parents who are at home with their small children during this lockdown period (and beyond) to actively and playfully engage with them in what they are doing, seeing and watching.
Finding the time to do so may not be easy, but it will definitely pay dividends and help you bond with your child.
What gives us great joy is to see parents who were raised on Takalani Sesame 20 years ago now embracing it for their own children, and watching it with them.
They know the fun and benefits that the programme brings, and that the lovable characters can help kids to express and work through their emotions during trying times such as these.
We are proud of the gains we’ve made in nurturing early childhood learning, but recognise that complex challenges still lie ahead.
Taking this to heart, we’re excited to keep formulating and telling stories that resonate with our preschoolers, and look forward to another 20 years of bringing playful learning to more generations of South African children.
Innocent Nkata is the Managing Director of Sesame Workshop South Africa, the non-profit media and educational organisation behind Takalani Sesame, which airs on weekdays at 3.30pm on SABC 2.
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