Resourceful Young Children

Resourceful Young Children
Learning Brief

Ntataise Lowveld Trust

Putting the early into Early Childhood Development – setting up preschools in rural communities is not just ABC.

Category: Resourceful Young Children | Test population-based models of provision | 25 June, 2013 - 18:00


In South Africa, a mere 22% of children attend formal preschool. This means that a large majority of children start Grade One without the cognitive, emotional, and physical preparation needed to succeed in a formal school environment. They also do not have the social skills and learning ability to properly develop in a classroom, group-learning setting. When a child is not ready for primary school it jeopardises his/her development prospects, it places an additional pedagogical burden on the school teachers, and it disrupts the general progress of other learners in the classroom. It is thus critical that little children reach the necessary developmental milestones before beginning primary school.

However, there are many social and structural factors preventing parents and guardians from sending their little ones to preschool, including: financial limitations, absence of preschool availability or accessibility, cultural stigma/aversion to pre-schooling, and lack of understanding about the importance of preschool for early childhood development.

The Ntataise Lowveld Trust attempts to address some of these negative factors by adopting a community-centered preschool development initiative amongst 14 rural communities in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Lowveld, in the Mbombela and Nkomazi municipalities of the Ehlanzeni district.  In partnership with other community stakeholders and educational authorities, the Trust initiated informal playgroups in these 14 villages. The playgroups are run by carefully selected, semi-skilled and trained, young high-school graduates with the aim of providing the little children with a sound, holistic developmental basis before starting primary school.  


Step 1: develop an refine a concept plan

Before launching the playgroup initiative we developed a basic project plan, identified 15 villages based on need, and then approached various stakeholders within these communities about the need for such playgroups and about the form that each playgroups should take.

The list of stakeholders consulted included tribal leaders and Indunas, ward councillors, local educational service providers, representatives from other non-profits, representatives from the municipal and provincial Departments education, of health and of social development, and members of the local police force.

Our engagement with stakeholders sought to provide them with an explanation of the program aims and goals, to discuss the business plan, and we sought their insight into the ways in which the program could be tweaked to best serve the needs of the community. These meetings also served to help identify project participants, a location for the playgroup centre, and helped to increase awareness about the impending playgroup launch. By the end of these consultation meetings we decided to only focus our efforts in 14 villages and we made mild adjustments to the structural form and implementation process of our playgroups.

Step 2: Secure adequate funding

The Ntataise playgroups are located in very basic buildings with limited, but clean and essential amenities. Most importantly, the focus is on supplying the children with a safe, caring environment in which to learn, as well as a sound and secure social structure. As such, the project did not require large initial start-up funds.

The project team did identify initial funding at the concept development stage but this fell through during implementation and initial roll-out. Naturally this caused frustration and delays but eventually alternative funding was secured. It is thus important to ensure that funds are available and that project managers are prepared for any unforeseen financial situation.

Step 3: Identify local, suitably motivated and committed caregivers

After we had developed and refined the project plan we consulted village Indunas to help identify playgroup facilitators and caregivers who would be highly motivated, committed, and able to fulfil the project duties. The prospective caregivers were interviewed and selected for the 2-week preschool orientation training.

Step 4: Ensure that playgroup caregivers receive adequate, quality training

The Ntataise Lowveld Trust is committed to the belief that early childhood development builds the values, perceptions and moral outlook of a child. We believe that a child will grow into a balanced, open-minded child, youth, and adult if he/she learns early on to respect others, to view the world with a sense of humour, to be inquisitive, and to positively embrace all that life has to offer. With this in mind, we present training opportunities in Early Childhood Development to the women in the Lowveld region of South Africa, who would not otherwise be in a position to access training to develop the children in their care.

Ntataise Lowveld is an Accredited Training Provider, delivering training and support in the field of Early Childhood Development. We use well-researched training materials and assessment guides developed by Ntataise Trust, and we offer Courses (Core and Electives) from Level 1 to Level 4, leading to credits towards the National Certificate in ECD.

Initial training: These selected caregivers are recent high school matriculates who have no experience in preschool management. Thus the orientation programme is targeted at the very beginner level to accommodate their needs. The playgroup caregivers participate in full-time, two weeks training course on early childhood development covering topics such as: How children develop and learn, Social and emotional needs of children, Health and safety, Handwork activities, Make believe play, Educational toys and books, etc. Each Course is designed to provide practitioners with skills and tools to use in their playrooms, with each Course building upon the previous learning

Ongoing workshops: Ntataise Lowveld also offers monthly one-day workshops, presented by our Assessor/Trainers, with a different theme every month. Each Workshop covers a different topic such as creativity, songs, basic child development, health and hygiene. Workshops are held in different locations, to make travel easier for the participants. At each location, the Workshop is presented both at Level 1 and at Level 4.

Step 5: Provide the playgroup caregivers with support and supervision

Throughout the year, our project coordinator will make follow-up visits to the playgroups to provide guidance, support and feedback to the caregivers, and to assess their level of program compliance. These site support visits will take place twice a month in each village. The first visit is in the morning and the second is after the indoor play session. The coordinator observes how the caregiver interacts with the children during free play, how the caregiver introduces the daily theme to the children, and how the educational toys are introduced to the children.

Step 6: Ensure the supply of educationally appropriate material resources

Ntataise provides each of the village playgroup centres with a variety of educational toys and books appropriate for the children’s skill and developmental level. Each centre received a large toy bag with the same educational toys and the caregivers were trained on how to use these toys, how to introduce them to children, and on how to take care of and maintain the toys.

Step 7: Address the nutritional needs of the children

Initially, at the program outset parents were encouraged to pack a small lunch/snack for their children attending the playgroup. Unfortunately this proves challenging for some parents who are not able to supply a packed meal, and some parents do not provide their child with a healthy, nutritious lunch. Consequently, it creates inequality in the playgroup with some children having no lunch at all.  The Ntataise Lowveld Trust has attempted to raise some funds to provide lunch for the children but this is not a program priority and has not been a very sustainable endeavour so far.  

Step 8: Monitor and evaluate progress

Each child starting at the playgroup is given a baseline assessment, which is included in their personal file. Every quarter the caregivers observe and assess each child in order to evaluate the program intervention and also to monitor the child’s development progress. The caregiver will submit a quarterly report to the child’s parents / guardians, and also to the playgroup coordinator for compilation into a report for the funders and donors. 

Caregivers are encouraged to further their own education and training by completing their Level 4 ECD training within 2 years, and to attend at least 60% of the workshops. However we allow the choice to remain with the individual caregiver and do not monitor this.


  • It is vital to begin the development of the concept plan by opening up communication channels at the village level, and to consult with a variety of stakeholders before starting any of the project implementation phases.
  • Before project finalisation, conduct an assessment of the most crucial needs in the community and what might already exist to address these needs.
  • Always make sure that the community understands the project language that is used, the importance of the project, and confirm that key stakeholders are in agreement and on board with the program roll-out.
  • Be willing to share the program ideas, experiences, and staff expertise with other organisations in the area and around the country.

Ntataise Lowveld Trust

150 Solomon Street, Rocky Drift, White River

 (013) 758-2267

In Short

This learning brief offers lessons from the Ntataise Lowveld Trust on how best to start up preschool playgroups in resource-limited, rural South African communities, without large-scale financial investment or the need for infrastructure development. 

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