BrainBoosters Play & Learn Programme (Age 1 - 3)

Project Representative
Karina Strydom
Creation Date: 2012
Geographical Reach: South Africa, Namibia
Nature and number of beneficiaries: 6000 children under four
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BrainBoosters Play & Learn Programme (Age 1 - 3)

About the Project

The BrainBoosters Play & Learn Programme is a cognitive development programme that blends neuroscience with early childhood education, enabling toddlers to effortlessly learn the basic concepts necessary for fundamental brain architecture in an age-appropriate way.
 
In order to be adequately prepared for formal schooling, it is vital that a child learns to identify shapes, numbers, the concept of size, spatial relation and that written words have meaning. Neuroscience indicates that there is a critical 'window of opportunity' when a child's sensory pathways (such as vision and hearing), language and higher cognitive functions are developed and synapse development is at its strongest. This window of opportunity occurs before four years of age.  Because brain connections become permanent through repetition, by continually activating the neuron networks that exercise the cognitive muscle, these connections are strengthened. 
 
The BrainBoosters Play & Learn Programme is innovative in that it develops various fundamental perceptual skills through the introduction of concepts in isolation e.g. teaching 10 colours simultaneously and not one at a time.  Children need to see one colour in relation to another in order to distinguish the differences between the two. The same concept applies to shapes and numbers 0 – 10.  Using the BrainBoosters Programme, most children aged 15-36 months are able to learn approximately ten shapes within a 3 - 5 week period. We introduce written words and their meaning to children under 4 years of age, and do daily counting demonstrations instead of teaching children a counting rhyme.  Exploration of the environment and language development is facilitated through fun-filled games and child-focused interactions making learnt concepts tangible, intrinsic knowledge, e.g. ‘Yellow Square’ or that a door is a rectangle.
 
BrainBoosters also provides interactive, non-academic training for caregivers with little or no ECD knowledge, supplying them with picture-driven posters for the daily programme designed in response to the fact that South Africa has 11 official languages. Also on offer are affordable products and Parent Packs that encourage and facilitate parental involvement. 

Context and Issue

BrainBoosters believes that human capacity in children under the age of 4 will be wasted daily for as long as they are not stimulated cognitively.

We believe that South Africa needs immediate intervention to improve the literacy and numeracy of many millions of people. Educationalists in other countries are concerned about the ‘tiger mom’ phenomenon, where parents push their children to excel (sometimes to the child’s detriment) and ‘helicopter parenting’ where parents micro-manage their children.  However, because most South African children face a very different set of circumstances, our particular problems require specialised solutions specifically tailored for the South African environment.

Involved parenting is a crucial part of a child’s development, but because so many of our children are being raised in child-headed households (due to the HIV/Aids epidemic), or by illiterate or poorly educated caregivers (due to the legacy of Apartheid); there is often minimal parental involvement.  Many caregivers are often unaware of the importance of giving their children a basic educational foundation before school-going age. They are not only ill-equipped to teach these lessons themselves, but they don’t know the ‘why’, ‘what’ or ‘how’ of cognitive stimulation.  As a result, by the time these children enter school (at age 7), they have already lost out on five critical years of informal, foundational education that should have occurred during the critical ‘window of opportunity’.

At BrainBoosters, we believe that it is vital to include parents and/or caregivers in any educational intervention, and that the earlier young children are reached, the more effective the results will be.  

Solution and Impact

The BrainBoosters solution has been designed to address South Africa’s unique educational challenges.  By blending neuroscience with education, we target children under the age of four during the ‘window of opportunity’ when effortless learning can take place, in an age-appropriate way. The BrainBoosters Play & Learn Programme focuses on the introduction of colour, shape and number concepts to young children (birth to three years).

Colour, shape, numbers, size, spatial relationships and written words are everywhere in our environment, and are the foundation for all future learning.  Children who learn these concepts earlier tend to do better at school.  Everything has a colour and shape, is in quantities, is large or small, is in front, behind or to the left or right of you and has a written word. Once a child has an understanding of these concepts, everything in his environment will start to make sense.

BrainBoosters found that, for the majority of children, existing methods used in Early Childhood Development skips one important step.  The first step should be to teach basic concepts in isolation so that young children can then apply this knowledge.  Concepts & objects should be taught separately. e.g. ‘blue’ and ‘plate’, ‘yellow’ and ‘banana’, ‘red’ and ‘truck’.  Children in this age group learn best through hearing and seeing the words and their meanings repeatedly and not by using other senses. Critical pre-literacy skills such as language are developed through sight-words and verbal repetition of all concepts and features.  Spatial orientation is strengthened through use of words and actions i.e. up, down, left, right, etc. The programme uses carefully-targeted themes (such as 'My Body', 'Food' and 'Animals') for application which allows for the implementation and expression of this newly-formed knowledge.  

Methodology:

1.  Isolate: Show the concept by itself.

2.  Reinforce: Show the concept repeatedly throughout the day.

3.  Combine: Combine the concepts e.g. red + square = red square.

4.  Reflect: Use words as part of the child’s daily vocabulary.

5.  Don't test young children.

The simplicity of the programme allows for easy skills (play-based) transfer, and is an ideal resource for small playgroups (formal/informal) or community crèches.  The packaging is designed for mobility and functions as a 'mobile toy library' during home visitations or play sessions. Parental involvement and education are integrated through themed Parent Packs which enables ECD practitioners to transfer skills and knowledge to parents/caregivers for home play and interaction.  Home visitation programmes utilise this as a leave-behind resource once the parent/caregiver education and Play Skills demonstrations have been completed.

Through parent/caregiver-directed activities in a nurturing, caring environment, children will develop a strong educational foundation, better preparing them for formal schooling and all future learning.

Future Developments

Our goal is for this programme to reach as many children under the age of 4 as possible to improve literacy and numeracy.  

In order to ensure that this programme is available to the millions of children in need of a solid educational foundation, we require the support of Corporate South Africa, Government departments dealing with small children, and local and international funders.  

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