Ms Veldsman met the people from Care for Education at a meeting with the Lego Foundation, which was held at UP and informed them about her research in Daspoort and Mountain View. The people who are directly involved in the sponsorship are three Grade R and RR teachers from three schools in Mountain View and Daspoort, and 550 children in total.
Initially Ms Veldsman only planned to use Grade R teachers as participants for the study. However, the schools requested her to also involve Grade RR teachers as they see the importance of the research for the professional development of teachers and for the development of learners’ skills. The workshops were held over a period of eight weeks.
An article published by Maroela Media on the sponsorship and work done with Lego, was shared 6 000 times over three days. About 1 000 people commented on the article and the research. The University received a great deal of publicity. Ms Veldman received about 24 e-mails from all over the world about the research. Almost no research nationally and internationally could be found where a program focused on the importance of perceptual motor skills for Grade R learners, through a play-based curriculum focusing on the professional development of teachers.
The essence of education is the ability to read, write, speak and listen well, thus developing good literacy skills. Several studies confirm that a learner’s early literacy skills determine the extent to which the learner will master his or her reading literacy later in life. If learners do not have adequate preparation for reading literacy skills in Grade R, the learner may develop later problems with progress at school.
The lack of adequate literacy skills is a global trend. South Africa is also experiencing this problem. The results of the 2011 Annual National Assessment (ANA) showed that the average literacy for Grade 3 learners is at 35% and average numeracy skills are at 34% (DvBO, 2011). The results show that minimal improvement has taken place from the year 2000 to date. This was labelled by the Minister of Basic Education as unacceptably low. The poor performance of Grade 3 learners proves that early childhood development programmes have gaps (De Witt, 2009). The findings show that average skill levels of young children are still very weak.
The Department of Basic Education (DoBE), together with several researchers, emphasise that learners should not be exposed to formal literacy too early, but should develop a strong foundation of perceptual and perceptual-motor skills before they are exposed to formal learning. Despite the recommendations of the DoBE, however, there are several schools in Gauteng that start formal training in literacy in Grade R. It is within this frame of reference that Ms Veldsman created a professional development programme, formulated for Grade R educators. This programme aims to empower teachers through professional development, using a play-based approach to strengthen Grade R learners’ perceptual-motor skills. Research worldwide emphasises the importance of a good foundation of perceptual-motor skills before learners are exposed to formal literacy. The programme will focus amongst others on the importance of balance, laterality, midline crossing, coordination and vestibular integration for literacy acquisition.
Lego was used in these activities.