Volunteering two hours a week to bridge the word gap

Volunteering two hours a week to bridge the word gap

According to a study by Jessica Logan, lead author of the study and assistant professor of Educational Studies at The Ohio State University, there is a significant gap between children who were read to and those who weren’t. By the time children are five years old, if they’ve never had anyone read to them they, on average, have only heard about 4,662 different words up till then. This compared to the 63,570 different words heard by children who were read to, once or twice a week resulting in a staggering word gap.

The impact of reading to a child

Besides increasing a child’s vocabulary, reading to a child has a direct impact on their cognitive development (the ability to think and understand). It also helps develop and nurture their imagination, language development, memory, attention span, knowledge about the world, and it expands a child’s access to new information.

In communities like Thembisa, parents and guardians rarely have the luxury, ability, or access to appropriate reading material in order to read to their children. Now, imagine if you’re learning a completely new language that you haven’t been exposed to until the age of six or seven when you go to primary school. The word gap becomes even bigger. That’s why we have partnered with the Link Literacy Project, where volunteers from The Link Project help learners in grade two and three that need extra attention at Nokuphila Primary School to learn to read.

About The Link Literacy Project

The Link Literacy and Numeracy Project is a Public Benefit Organisation, and the idea is that the volunteers have a one-on-one relationship with a child: one volunteer for one child. All their centres are at English-speaking primary schools with disadvantaged children. Mostly these are also children that only hear English at school and at the reading sessions with The Link volunteers. They focus primarily on grade two children because by that stage they have learnt sounds and have started reading. The Link volunteers are there to develop their reading and comprehension. 

But reading isn’t the only learning area that The Link focuses on. They also offer a numeracy programme at some of their centres in the greater Johannesburg area. 

In areas where they can’t get volunteers, they now offer Link-in-a-Box (at a price) which is a 20-litre box filled with Link resources for five teachers. The box contains five sets of The Link Sounds cards, five sets of the games and books that go with the Sounds Cards, six basic readers, six Afro-centric story books, as well as five white boards and white board markers. A successful applicant for a Link-in-a-Box will receive training on how to use the resources and benefits from on-going support.

Relationship between Teachers and the Link Project Volunteers

The Coordinator at The Link Literacy Project, Maggie Fussell, believes that the South African education system is in crisis and teachers are drowning under the pressures and lack of support. The Link Project volunteers are there to assist. The volunteers are there to support and provide added insight to teachers where applicable. The Link Project is there to help anyone who wants and needs additional support be it through available volunteers or through their DIY Link-in-a-Box initiative. The point is to make sure that no child gets left behind and that every effort is made to help those that need it most.

The importance of volunteering, what it entails, and how to volunteer your time

Centre managers and volunteers are the backbone of The Link organisation, without whom their programme cannot run. Becoming a volunteer couldn’t be easier. If you can dedicate two hours a week, every school week (you’ll be working with a child for the whole year), all you need to do is visit The Link website, select a centre in your area of choice and see the dates and times of the sessions. You’ll receive the necessary training, shadow an experienced volunteer and when you feel you’re ready to work with a child you’ll do so. No qualifications are needed, just a willingness to commit your time and effort to a child in need for two hours a week. They place the safety of the children above all else, so the relevant checks are done on all applications received.

The Link Literacy and Numeracy Project rely solely on public and corporate donations to continue their work in their 17 centres in and around Johannesburg. If you’d like to find out how you can volunteer as a reader at Nokuphila Primary or another Link centre, or how you can donate to The Link Literacy project, visit their website for more or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.