Building Essential Literacy, Numeracy And Life Skills
The foundation phase, from Grade R to Grade 3, is a critical stage in a child’s education. While it may not seem so at the time, any gaps in learning areas will have serious repercussions later, and may even encourage a child to drop out of high school.
Sharon James, a retired Cape Town-based teacher and now tutor, says the main outcomes of the foundation phase are language – home and one additional – mathematics and life skills. The foundation phase is also a time to consolidate the transition from playing in the real world (concrete learning) to the world of symbolic learning, says Dr Melodie de Jager, developmental specialist and founder of Mind Moves. “It is the only time when there is time to fall in love with learning and reading.”
Reading to learn
Those first years of school seem to be mainly about phonics and reading. “Children begin the foundation phase learning to read, and by the end of these three years, they should be able to read to learn,” explains James. Children are taught to read using phonics, as well as the “look and say” method. They are also encouraged to expand their reading vocabulary.
Hand in hand with reading is handwriting, says James. “To be able to communicate through writing, children have to understand the phonics rules, punctuation, sentence construction and grammar rules. They need to learn the rules of basic words that cannot be sounded out. “All of these skills are developed while children read, listen and speak.” She adds that the development of reading and writing skills should extend to an additional language. “This is particularly important for children whose home language is not English or Afrikaans, as learning mostly takes place in these languages from Grade 4 onwards.
Making number sense
The four basic operations of addition, subtraction, division and multiplication will be taught during the foundation phase, and applied to real-life situations to make them more tangible, explains James. The aim of mathematics during this phase is to develop an understanding of how mathematics is used daily. Working with money, number patterns, space and shape, measurement and data handling also form part of the curriculum.
The foundation phase covers more than just the essential building blocks of literacy and numeracy, says James. Life skills are essential for the “holistic development” of children, dealing with their social, personal, intellectual, emotional and physical growth. “Children learn about topics that will later be part of social sciences and natural science. They are encouraged to become curious about the world around them, learning to investigate, observe, compare, measure, classify, experiment and communicate.”
Other skills include social wellbeing, the creative arts and physical education to fine-tune gross and fine motor skills.
Freedom to learn
Learning during the foundation phase extends beyond the classroom, says James. Parents can bolster the work being done at school in several ways. “Language is the basis of reading, and talking to a baby, singing, reciting nursery rhymes and making funny noises is important. They will naturally want to imitate you and this is how early speech starts. Reading to a baby from the start will help them to love books,” she says.
It is possible to start working on basic reading skills even before the start of Grade 1. Parents can help by pointing out the names of shops and road signs, and identifying words and letters in books. De Jager emphasises the importance of teaching children to listen, as reading involves “listening” to the sounds made by squiggles on paper or screen. “The blind read without seeing because they can listen exceptionally well,” she says.
“Find opportunities to count from the time your child is little,” says James. This could mean counting Lego pieces as you pack up, or keeping a tally of specific coloured cars while driving. “But,” she adds, “don’t push. Always keep interaction with reading materials (or numbers) a positive experience. Building healthy self-esteem is essential for successful learning and is far more important than academic achievement.”
Remember, the foundation phase sets the tone for a child’s academic career – a positive start will make for a more successful learning journey.