Growing up with a mother who was a teacher, it was inevitable that learning would be a part of my lifestyle from an early age. In almost all situations, I encountered the question ‘so, what did you learn from the experience’ from my mother. My parents looked for a variety of ways to expose me to different learning situations needed for early cognitive development. They applied parts of the curriculum to daily life. This included tallying items around the house to practice counting or reading and discussing a newspaper article or book. My spelling was enhanced by writing down grocery lists and short stories about my day or my favourite animal. My mother, who was a foundation phase educator, ensured that we were exposed to educational television programmes, as well as computer and board games. This helped us to be a step ahead in preparing for compulsory schooling. This is in line with Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development[1]  that asserts that powerful tools such as television, books, videos and other technological devices can serve as guides in learning. Formal schooling was more of an extension of the learning that had already begun at home.

 Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development places an emphasis on considering children as active learners who are able to set goals, plan and revise. Children, according to Vygotsky, are able to do this through support from their social environment-such as the people and the tools that are made available to them. Therefore what a child can perform with assistance the first few times, they will be able to perform independently thereafter. The assistance therefore prepares the child for entry into new and more demanding spaces.

The efforts made to develop my cognition at an early stage were vital as they were a foundation that shaped my growth, development and learning achievement at school and in life in general. Research confirms that there is a strong correlation between the development a child undergoes early in life and the level of success that the child will experience later in life[2]. Studies also indicate that if a child grows up in an environment that is rich in language and literacy opportunities and interactions, they can start to gain the essential building blocks for learning how to read[2]. On the other hand, a child who did not grow up in an engaging environment that enabled them to acquire these skills would be at risk of starting, and staying, behind at school[2].

Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers. The power of introducing learning as exciting and meaningful is in the hands of the parents. Since my parents valued education, it influenced my own attitudes about education. It inspired me and showed me how to take charge of my own educational journey[3].

When I started formal schooling, my parents would go over what I had learned at school again at home with me. Literature affirms that this should be done in a non-pressured way and used as a platform to address what the child may need additional assistance with, depending on the needs and the learning level of the child2. The importance of parental involvement is highlighted in the TIMSS 2015[4] findings, where South African Grade 5 learners whose parents reported spending time with them on early literacy and numeracy activities had higher mathematics achievement. This emphasises the important role of parents in ensuring that their children are ready for formal learning by the time they start school.

From the evidence provided by studies, literature and my personal experience, it can be concluded that early learning in a safe and accommodating home environment, with encouraging and supportive parents/guardians from before a child starts school, and continuing thereafter, increases the child’s willingness to learn. This is also likely to yield better academic and life outcomes for those individuals that are exposed to these early learning experiences.

Author: Ncamisile Zulu, PhD intern.

             Education and Skills Development research programme of the HSRC

           (PhD Candidate at UKZN studying Research Psychology)