Creative Learners

Creative Learners
Learning Brief

Family Literacy Project

Khulisa abantwana – training Home Visitors to conduct household childhood development sessions

Category: Creative Learners | Early literacy and numeracy development | 14 August, 2013 - 18:00


The Family Literacy Project has partnered with Tembaletu, and the Aids Foundation of South Africa in the Community Works Programme to initiate an early-childhood development project in KwaZulu-Natal. This learning brief is focused on the implementation steps of their Khulisa Abantwana Home Visiting Programme, which is based on a two-year pilot focusing on development and play for 0-4 year old children.  

This is a story of our project implementation.

Program strategy

We have trained 175 women from Impendle, Ubhuhlebezwe, and Ingwe Municipalities to visit families in their villages to share information about child development with parents/guardians, and to play with and read to children between 0-5 years of age. These so-called, “Home Visitors” are all functionally literate women who learn about children’s rights, the importance of play, creating safe environments for children to learn in, providing a nutritious diet, etc., all with a focus on supporting young children to learn and build early literacy skills. The women each visit six homes in their own village, where they interact with the primary caregivers and their children aged between 0-6 years of age.

The Home Visitors all participate in training workshops prior to starting their rounds. They meet in groups of 15 women for the initial two-days of the workshop, and thereafter meet once a month for a further nine months. The workshops are designed to introduce them to the reasons for home visiting, how to plan, conduct and record their visits, and how to use the home visiting kits. The course covers the development, care and safety of very young children, and focuses on early literacy and language building activities.

During the workshops we teach the Home Visitors how to use the Facilitator’s Guide, and how to complete the Participant’s Guide and planning book for each family visited. They watch a DVD that shows actual interactions between caregivers and young children in homes similar to those that are visited. Each Home Visitor also receives a home visiting kit, with toys, and brochures selected to encourage early learning and literacy. 


We have learned a great deal about what works well and we are sharing our lessons and implementation procedures here. First, we have learned the importance of working with partners; second, the suitability of our approach and materials; third, how best to train local women with no work experience; fourth, the need to know about other services in the communities where the programme is being implemented; and finally, the importance of understanding the rich diversity of households that are visited by our team. 

  1. When working with partner organizations, make sure that everyone, at every level, is aware of the joint program, and fully understands the program goals and strategies. It is imperative to take time to build relationships with different the partners and understand how their structures and systems work in order to avoid future misunderstandings and problems that might result in unnecessary delays. Each partner most likely has different monitoring and evaluation goals. Be reasonable in developing a joint M&E framework for your project so that the team isn’t overburdened by collecting data instead of rolling out the project plan. Before you start your project, ensure that the training and implementation strategy matches the new M&E framework and that all the partner organisations are able to collect the information they need for their own evaluation reports.
  2. Participatory methods and games for the home visits must be pilot tested to ensure their suitability for the local context. Ensure that the program facilitators, and Home Visitors are familiar and comfortable with the methods, games and toys. Once off-training is not enough to guarantee this. Allow them further occasions to ask follow up questions and to practice using the techniques and toys.
  3. Train the Home Visitors well - it is a rewarding experience, but be prepared for potential challenges. For instance, we found that during training of the Home Visitors, many defaulted to their accustomed rote learning techniques and were thus not appreciating and understanding the function of participatory methods. As such, we first introduced them to ways of encouraging children to think and choose for themselves and this helped the Home Visitors also begin to learn to think critically. 
  4. Our training sessions are fun and active, and we make it a priority to ensure that everyone leaves with a correct understanding of the taught concepts and strategies. We use a variety of training techniques such as role-play activities, participant guides, planning books, and DVDs, and we do so in a few different local languages.   
  5. Select the Home Visitors carefully. Many individuals who sign up for the training to be a Home Visitor are previously unemployed women, and they are excited to receive regular salaries, and are eager to be trained in meaningful work.  But, child-care and home visits are not for everyone and very soon you may have a number of dropouts. In order to ensure a low turnover of trainees be sure to recruit only committed and hard working individuals who are ready for the task ahead of them.
  6. Home Visitors join or leave the programme midstream, which disrupts the training programme and requires the trainer to recap previous sessions.  This meant that we had to run additional training days for newcomers.  We now use the Planning books to reflect upon where Home Visitors are having difficulties. We also make sure that they receive on-going training and give them further opportunity to talk through their challenges and find solutions. 
  7. Know your target communities  despite having done prior research you may expect to find inadequate social services and few education resources in the formal centres where you work. Furthermore, the households that are targeted are sometimes isolated (physically or socially) and so the household interventions require visitors to show respect and to be sensitive to the family’s needs.  The target families may not aware of the importance of spending time with or even talking to babies and very young children. It is only after the parents or guardians observe first-hand the impact of the play-sessions on their child’s development that they begin to see value in the programme. Moreover, in some households babies and toddlers are unaccustomed to seeing a stranger and it might take time for the child to grow used to having visitors around.

By adopting these implementation steps and learning from our failures and successes we hope that other organisations can improve their own program models and expand much needed assistance for early childhood development in rural South African communities.

55 Botha Road, Botha's Hill, KwaZulu-Natal South Africa

 (031) 765 1875

In Short

Learn from the Family Literacy Project’s five implementation steps for training “Home Visitors” to conduct household childhood development sessions in rural South African communities. By adopting these implementation steps and learning from the project’s failures and successes, other organisations can improve their own program models and expand much needed assistance for early childhood development in rural South African communities.

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