Creative Learners

Creative Learners
Learning Brief

The Shine Trust

Lessons learned on hosting parent workshops to help promote and improve literacy

Category: Creative Learners | Reading Promotion | 29 May, 2013 - 15:53


In 2011, Minister of Education Angie Motshekga, reported that among Grade Three children, the national average pass rate in literacy was 35% and in numeracy, 28%. These ANA results inform us that all levels of the education sector need to focus more strongly on the core issues of quality learning and teaching (South African Department of Education, 2011). In the Western Cape, the Grade Three literacy pass rate in 2011 stood at 30.4%. (Western Cape Department of Education, 2012). 

Inadequate literacy skills, and the subsequent issues arising from this, continue to impact on children throughout their education. Nic Spaull notes that only 38% of those children who were in Grade Two in 2001, passed matric in 2011. Poor performance and drop-out in high school is rooted in the teaching and learning experienced in primary school and early secondary school. Children carry learning deficits with them if they are pushed through the grades and may fail or under-perform in Grade 10, 11 and 12.

Our strategy:

Our Parent Workshops aim to give parents of Grade One children a greater understanding of their child’s learning environment. Often, the chain of communication between schools and parents is broken, with possible assumptions made that parents do not want to be engaged. 

Shine attempts to address this power imbalance, by bringing parents into the learning space and allowing for dialogue about what it means to educate a child. In South Africa, structural inequality has long existed in education, and this inequality continues across generations. Parents often do not have the necessary skills to support their children. As such, we strive to equip and empower parents with basic skills based on our methodology, thus breaking the assumption that it is difficult to teach a child to read.

Shine Parent Workshops provide support through the teaching of Paired and Shared Reading methodology, as well as through the provision of advice and demonstrations of how to engage with a child through books. We believe that ‘story time’ and reading together allows families to share ‘golden moments’. Just four to 10 minutes a day of Paired Reading or Shared Reading, a literacy game, simple storytelling or just listening attentively and asking incisive questions, provides opportunity for conversation, creates bonds and deepens the understanding between parent and child. We aim to inspire parents to set up reading clubs and help them to think of ways to get more books into the home, for example, information on how to access libraries. 

Through our workshops, we also provide parents with important information about the role of school governing bodies, what parents should expect/demand with regards to reading resources at schools and how to use the different resources available. The difference between a reader and a storybook is explained, as well as the importance of readers coming home with their children every day. 

Our seven-strategy approach: Intended purpose, strategic focus areas and expected outcomes

Our methods are simple yet effective, enabling any parent to help their own child but also others in their community, thus increasing knowledge and building capacity to support community literacy.

Strategy One: The invitation needs to motivate and encourage parents to attend workshops

We were inspired by methodology presented at a Symphonia workshop called ‘School At The Centre of the Community,’ as well as by research from The Abundant Community by John McKnight and Peter Block. We began the process by deciding to change our workshop invitation to include bold questions such as:  “Would you like an opportunity to learn easy ways to encourage your child to become a good reader and love books?” and ‘Just four minutes a day could change your child’s life’. We offered a ‘take home’ pack consisting of four easy readers and a literacy game, and light refreshments. Reminders were sent to parents a few days before the workshop. The tone of the invitation was friendly and non-threatening.

Strategy Two: Parents need to feel at ease in the workshop and be part of the conversation

Following Symphonia’s format, participants sat in groups of two or four. Discussion took place in these small groups with report-backs to the larger group. Participants were encouraged to look at solutions, share ideas and reflect on past experiences, with the intention being to inspire, motivate and create bonds. We discussed parents’ own experiences around learning to read as children. Did their parents or caregivers ever read to them? We asked them to try and read texts in foreign languages and then discussed how they felt after this exercise. We discussed possible reasons for the education crisis in South Africa and made comparisons with other countries.

Our workshops are designed to be interactive and dynamic, so that parents leave with a sense of hope and a broader perspective of what it means to educate a child. 

Strategy Three: Parents must leave with vital skills needed to support reading at home

Parents received instruction and took part in exercises that covered Paired Reading, Shared Reading, phoneme awareness, literacy games and the sounds of the alphabet. We demonstrated how just four to 10 minutes of positive support each day can make a huge difference to a young child’s reading journey.  

Strategy Four: Choosing the audience and timing of workshops

The strategy was to facilitate a workshop at each of the six schools where Shine Centres are located. We invited Grade One parents with the aim of reducing the number of children who might possibly need support in Shine Centres in the following year. Usually more than 60% of Grade One children are already falling behind in literacy by the end of the year.

Workshops were held on a Saturday to enable as many parents as possible to attend. We were also sensitive to the financial restraints that parents have – most workshops were held towards the beginning of the month, unless otherwise requested by a school or organisation. Initially we held workshops in or near parents’ residential areas, but attendance dropped significantly as it was not then seen as a school-based initiative. 

Strategy Five: Ongoing communication with parents to encourage implementation at home of key tasks demonstrated in the workshop

The strategy was to build up a database of parents’ contact details to enable an SMS campaign of reminders of key tasks/phrases: listen attentively, ensure four to 10 minutes of reading time each day, share a story about something that happened during the day, invest in a golden moment!

Strategy Six: Encourage parents to share these ideas and skills and possibly start their own reading club 

Parents were encouraged to join the Shine Facebook site ( and the Nal’ibali Facebook site ( We also introduced the Nal’ibali Reading-for-Enjoyment Campaign to them and the idea of setting up reading clubs within the community. Our intention was to hand out a bilingual Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment supplement to each parent but unfortunately we did not receive the full order of supplements as requested. 

Strategy Seven: Look for other organisations where parents would benefit from a Shine workshop

We approached the Chrysalis Foundation in Tokai, two community churches and two local schools in Khayelitsha about facilitating workshops to empower parents to change the way they approach reading in their homes and possibly look at starting their own reading clubs.

Reflection and lessons on improving strategic focus areas to improve workshop outcomes

Strategy One: The invitation needs to motivate and encourage parents to attend workshops

The Grade One workshops in Shine Schools were well attended with a total of 697 parents invited and 450 attending. We followed a slightly different approach at Observatory Junior School – parents had two opportunities to attend, with the Centre Manager following up and motivating parents who did not attend the first workshop. With the result, an estimated 70% of parents at Observatory came to a workshop. In future, we will give all parents a choice of dates to attend a workshop.

Parents seem willing to attend our workshops but there are factors that inhibit attendance, such as money for transportation. On one occasion we offered a transport subsidy. It was well received and we had a very good turnout with over eighty attending. 

Strategy Two: Parents need to feel at ease in the workshop and be part of the conversation

In the beginning, we had to ensure that parents sat in groups of two or four, as many were inclined to sit on their own and did not make eye contact before the start of the workshop. Some parents were very happy to report back to the large group and their wisdom and insights enabled us to learn from them. In general, we were pleased and encouraged to find that parents interacted easily and comfortably.

Strategy Three: Parents must leave with vital skills needed to support reading at home

Parents left the workshop with the key skills needed to support their child, most important of which was the realisation that they need to be more involved. Many parents voiced that they had not previously understood how important their role was. They also were more aware of the value and need for a governing body and encouraged to become involved in the management structure of the school. As one parents at the West Reach Assemblies of God Church Parent Workshop commented, “Children don’t have enough at school to support reading, we want to do work at home too!”

Strategy Four: Choosing the audience and timing of workshops

Initiating workshops for Grade One parents can prevent failure by young children to acquire basic skills in literacy. This failure is often accompanied by anxiety, fear of books, a drop in self-confidence and the beginning of the end for many children’s learning. We plan to offer these workshops to parents of children from one to nine years old.

Strategy Five: Ongoing communication with parents to encourage implementation at home of key tasks demonstrated in the workshop

Parents were sent supportive text messages to remind them of what we had learnt and practised in the workshops. It has been challenging to collate contact details for parents. However, we now have a database and we will continue to communicate with parents according to a structured plan. We will spend more time on building capacity to meet the needs of this strategy. 

Strategy Six: Encourage parents to share these ideas and skills and even start their own reading club

Although we have sowed the seeds, we have not yet seen any direct results from our workshop in this regard. We may need to promote this idea more strongly at the workshop and then follow up on any parents who express an interest in doing voluntary work in their community. 

Strategy Seven: Look for other organisations where parents would benefit from a Shine workshop

The workshop at West Reach Assemblies of God Church was also different, as the 40 participants knew each other, which made discussion interactive and engaging. People seemed extremely interested in the skills that we were providing and a few members expressed intent to set up their own reading clubs. Now the challenge lies in keeping communication open and supporting this church in their literacy endeavours. We feel strongly that faith-based organisations are well placed to set up reading clubs for the children in their congregation. However, this is still a pilot project and we will be able to report back on it early next year.

The workshop at the Chrysalis Academy was quite intimidating as the audience was made up of 180 young men! We piloted a full-day workshop with opportunity for reflection and art exercises to drive points and issues home. We felt that we had certainly opened their eyes about the importance of parental/adult support and many were also able to understand why their own reading journey had failed. It was a very emotive workshop as we witnessed first-hand how the potential of many of these young men had been dashed by early failure at school. 

In October we will be hosting workshops at schools in Khayelitsha with the aim of launching reading clubs at these schools.

Way forward: Building on gains achieved to date

Overall the workshops have been successful, as we have been able to create a team of dedicated and diverse consultants, who make these workshops as interactive as possible. Our facilitators included our Centre Managers, which meant that we had an average of seven facilitators who could join in the small group discussions and help to ensure that questions were well answered. Teachers who attended these workshops were impressed by the attendance and the responses of the parents. They realised they had made assumptions that, in most cases, were incorrect. They also realised the need of parents for more information, the concern for their children and the parents’ desire to support them. 

Each workshop has been a learning curve and we are challenged by the needs identified by parents. However, we are committed to finding ways to inspire and motivate parents to support their children’s literacy. Just one workshop has already assisted a number of parents in setting goals and enabled us to initiate a conversation with them.

Our mission now is to reach more parents, to use technology to continue communicating with them, so that together we can achieve our vision: a nation of readers. 


South African Department of Education. 2011. Statement on the release of the Annual National Assessments Results for 2011 by Mrs Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education, Union Buildings. Available at: 

Spaull.N. 2012. Education in SA: A tale of two systems. Available at: 

Western Cape Department of Education. 2012. Minister Grant announces 2011 Literacy and Numeracy results: Statement by Minister Donald Grant, Minister of Education, Western Cape. Available at :

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In Short

In this practical and useful learning brief you can learn about simple yet effective strategies to empower and equip parents with the skills to improve their children’s literacy development.  Although this is specifically about encouraging literacy development, this brief offers good advice to any organisation that needs to have sessions with parents or elders to support the development of children.

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