Creative Learners

Creative Learners
Learning Brief

Integrated Community Development Programme (ICDP)

A captive audience: promoting the early literacy message to mothers in clinic waiting areas

Category: Creative Learners | Early literacy and numeracy development | 22 July, 2014 - 09:58


Project context

The Lebone Centre in Grahamstown runs a comprehensive literacy outreach programme for previously disadvantaged communities, and targets children from birth to age 14 years. There is a strong emphasis on literacy in the early years, with a focus on mothers of babies and young children, and the parents of preschool children. The Centre volunteers also support Foundation Phase children using the Wordworks approach.

In 2012 we started an outreach strategy to promote the value of early literacy to mothers who were waiting with their children in the local clinic waiting rooms. Below, we briefly showcase our project and encourage other organisation leaders to think of clinics as useful outreach sites.

Why work in clinic waiting areas?

As an early literacy project our goal is to encourage mothers to read to their children, and to get young children interested in books and reading. The rationale for working in the clinic waiting areas is that it gives us an opportunity to interact with a “captive audience” of women and children – our target group.

How we implement our clinic outreach

Pregnant women, mothers coming in for check-ups, and women bringing their young children for immunisations regularly wait in long queues at local clinics. While they wait we provide a short, early-morning workshop for about 45 minutes to introduce to them the value of reading to babies and children at a young age. In this time we demonstrate good reading practice in an interactive way and allow the children to handle and look through the small, colourful cardboard books that we source from the Little Hands Trust.

Partnerships in our success

Our early literacy outreach has been a success in the clinics because we have managed good partnerships with a number of different organizations. First, we established relationships and support from the Department of Health clinic officials. Next we garnered funding from the DGMT to pilot our programme, and after showing success they provided further funding to expand the programme to 4 more sites in 2013. And finally, we solicited the very important colourful cardboard books from the Little Hands Trust, which is an invaluable resource for the reading initiative.

Implementation lessons to share

Through our series of 72 clinic mini-workshops, we have learnt the following lessons:

  • Clinic waiting rooms are good sites to interact with mothers and babies and where we can effectively communicate our messages about early literacy.
  • Having babies or young children present, who respond positively to the books and story reading, has greatly helped our advocacy work.
  • The small cardboard books from the Little Hands Trust are valuable for interactive activities, and we can give some out freely to the mothers to take home.
  • It is very helpful to have one of the clinic staff members “pave the way” for our workshops by introducing our organisation and preparing the mothers for the interaction.

Implementation challenges

Working in clinics does present some challenges. Bad weather conditions disrupt activities in outdoor waiting areas, while cramped indoor spaces can prevent the mothers and children from being able to pay attention during our workshop. Our facilitator has to be very flexible in his/her approach, and at times really has to put on a good act to capture the attention of the mothers in an otherwise busy and noisy space. For this reason it is essential to have an experienced facilitator with good communication skills in English and the local languages. It is also critical to have the full co-operation of the clinic staff.  


Targeting early literacy practices is important and necessary in order to promote language development and change mindsets about appropriate reading age. We believe that it is important to address children’s literacy development at an early age, and on a continual basis. This clinic outreach is just one intervention that aims to educate mothers about the importance of early literacy. The initiative is combined with our more in-depth moms and tots programme at our Lebone Centre and with a home visit programme. We encourage other early literacy programmes to learn from our outreach strategies and to contact us with further questions about the clinic workshops.

15 Currie Street Grahamstown

 (046) 622 7985

In Short

This brief presents ICDP’s unique early literacy promotion strategy aimed at reaching out to mothers and children in the local clinic waiting areas. It shares lessons on why approaching this audience is important, on how to set up such a project, and on developing appropriate partnerships to ensure the initiative’s success.

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