The Mikhulu Child Development Trust trains organisations to implement an evidence-based early childhood development (ECD) programme called “book-sharing”.
Book-sharing is an interactive exercise shared between a young child (under 6) and an adult. Unlike when reading to children, in this interaction the children become active participants who lead the process by discussing the pictures in the book. The adult supports the activity by asking questions about what is happening in the story and how this might relate to the child’s own life.
Book-sharing has been studied for the past 30 years, across the world but its potential impact in low- and middle-income countries has only recently been the focus of research attention, largely because of the work of Lynne Murray and Peter Cooper, who are both professors of psychology at the University of Reading.
A summary of the evidence
The Mikhulu Child Development Trust’s Kaathima Ebrahim notes that, “The evidence base for our work is strong. A randomised controlled trial carried out in Khayelitsha showed a dramatic benefit of our book-sharing intervention for both the quality of maternal care and engagement, and for child sustained attention, language and social understanding.”
“Language and sustained attention improvements are the most important predictors for school readiness and literacy development.”
In recent studies it has been found that the conversational nature of interactions with young children, as is done in book-sharing, as opposed to the simple number of words heard, specifically stimulates the area of the brain responsible for language, and that it predicts later cognitive functioning independent of other important social predictors (such as poverty and parental education).
“The evidence for the benefits of sensitive and supportive early book-sharing on children’s development is now so strong that we can say that it is the single most effective early intervention for improving the developmental trajectory of children,” says Ebrahim.
The Mikhulu Child Development Trust facilitates training that will ultimately enable caregivers and ECD practitioners to do effective book-sharing with young children.
The book-sharing facilitators course is aimed at partners who provide training and support to caregivers and ECD practitioners. The Mikhulu Child Development Trust trains facilitators who are typically already working with caregivers or practitioners on how to use book-sharing with children in their care.
The trained facilitators then run book-sharing courses for caregivers or ECD practitioners of between four and eight weekly sessions of 90 minutes. In each workshop, the facilitator prompts discussion about new techniques which are illustrated through brief video clips. At the end of each workshop, caregivers or ECD practitioners practice what they have learned with their children while being mentored by the facilitator.
“Under ideal conditions, partners would deliver programmes for three different age groups: 10-20 months, 20-30 months, and 30-60 months, as children’s capacities at these age groups differ. However, because many of our partners have limited ability to recruit caregivers for – and manage the delivery of – multiple programmes, in practice the 10-20 month and 20-30 month groups sometimes have to be combined into a single programme. We manage this by teaching facilitators how to emphasise different book-sharing skills for caregivers with children of different ages”
Currently, the Mikhulu Child Development Trust does not train caregivers or practitioners directly. “The best way for people working directly with children to be trained on book-sharing is for them to join a training run by one of our partner organisations. These are located across many different communities in Cape Town and the Western Cape, with a few in Johannesburg and KwaZulu Natal. Our work over the next few years will be to grow this reach.”
All the Mikhulu Child Development Trust’s partners either deliver the full book-sharing courses, or work with the organisation to integrate book-sharing into their existing programmes.
The goal and plan for scaling in SA
The Mikhulu Child Development Trust’s vision is for children in South Africa to receive the experience of sensitive and stimulating book-sharing both at home and at school.
Their current approach is to build book-sharing into the mainstream service delivery of other implementing NGOs and government services. An example of this is book-sharing being integrated into the maternity and baby divisions of all clinics in the Western Cape through a collaboration with the Western Cape Department of Health. Another example is their collaboration with the City of Cape Town Libraries to enable book-sharing to be integrated into their Summer Reading Programme.
The Mikhulu Child Development Trust trains organisations to implement an ECD book-sharing programme they have developed based on scientific evidence. The organisation has developed a set of wordless picture books that they use in their book-sharing trainings.
In 2018, through training of 16 partner organisations, the Mikhulu Trust reached 350 caregivers, 70 ECD practitioners and 2000 children under 6 through its ECD book-sharing programme. In 2019 it aims to reach 800 caregivers and ECD practitioners, and 8000 children.