Four year old Tumelo plays with Assistant teacher Siphesihle at the Greenfield early Learning group in Thokoza, one of the areas visited by the Cotlands "First 1000 days Campaign". Cotlands aim to highlight the impact a lack of early learning opportunities and early cognitive stimulation has on our society and its economy. 191113. Picture: Chris Collingridge 872
Four year old Tumelo plays with Assistant teacher Siphesihle at the Greenfield early Learning group in Thokoza, one of the areas visited by the Cotlands "First 1000 days Campaign". Cotlands aim to highlight the impact a lack of early learning opportunities and early cognitive stimulation has on our society and its economy. 191113. Picture: Chris Collingridge 872

First thousand days campaign launched

By NONTOBEKO MTSHALI Time of article published Nov 20, 2013

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Johannesburg - Of the estimated 5 million children in South Africa aged under five, only half a million have access to early childhood learning.

This is despite the fact that by the time children reach school-going age, the bulk of their mental capacity is already in place and their formal schooling progress hinges on the foundation laid in the early years.

It’s this lack of access to early learning that has prompted Cotlands, a non-profit children’s organisation, to launch the First Thousand Days campaign.

The initiative is aimed at raising awareness of the fact that the first 1 000 days of a child’s life – from conception to two years – are the most crucial to the child’s development.

Cotlands’ chief executive, Jackie Schoeman, said: “In the first two years of life every interaction impacts brain development.

“These early experiences with parents, caregivers and other adults have as much influence in the way a brain develops as good nutrition, mental capacity and physical wellbeing.

“When children are held, swaddled and cared for in nurturing ways, they tend to thrive. Conversely, children who are neglected and do not receive adequate stimulation in the first two years of life often suffer delayed or stunted brain development.”

Schoeman said the fact that parents tend to wait until their children reach the age of six and seven before enrolling them in schooling means these children start their educational phase on the back foot and are always trying to catch up.

“The later it gets, the wider the gap grows,” she said.

Cotlands’ chief operational officer, Monica Stach, said even though some children do go to early childhood development centres, or crèches, the cognitive aspect of their development is often neglected.

“We have a problem in the country of reaching children (for early learning), especially those in the rural areas. If we reached these children, we’d have great matric results because we know it begins in the early years,” she added.

Cotlands offers a high-impact two-hour programme every second day that covers baby stimulation, academic development programmes such as learning rhymes, maths, colours and shapes and science experiments.

The organisation also has toy libraries which are used to develop visual memory, hand and eye co-ordination, logic and verbal skills.

The toys are also used for therapeutic purposes, particularly for children who have experienced trauma.

Stach said the brain will never grow as fast as it does in the first two years. She said it’s during this time that the basis for learning languages is laid, and the emotional support children receive during these formative years determines how they’ll manage their relationships.

“If a child cries and their mother doesn’t respond, the child will lose trust (in the mother) and that will spill into their adult life because relationships are based on trust,” said Stach. - The Star

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