Surmounting barriers to learning is especially important in the early development stages of a child’s life as it influences their entire school career moving forward. We spoke to Michelle Peters, the Principal at The Love Trust’s Nokuphila Pre-Primary School in Thembisa, about how they help and support their learners who have special needs.

What do you define as special needs children and why do they require special attention?

“Children who need extra support, either socially, mentally or physically. Given the right opportunities, guidance and support, these learners can succeed. This may mean that as teachers we become more educated on different teaching methods; are more creative and flexible to incorporate all learners’ needs, not just what we think is the cookie-cutter way of teaching.”

How do you cater for these learners?

“The relationship between teachers and children is very important, because the routine we give them helps them feel more safe and secure. It means looking for where modifications need to be made as to how we teach, what we use to teach, the classroom setup, etc.

The teacher will work with our learner support team, which comprises a qualified occupational therapist, social worker, and the teacher. Together they will work on an individual support plan to see how they can best help that learner.”

Peters and her team also offer help outside of the classroom setup by focusing on their nutritional, psychological and emotional needs: “Obviously you can’t teach a child on an empty stomach… this is especially important to those who are not eating at home and come with emotional trauma and socio-economic issues that affect their studies.”

“Peters points out the importance of getting parents involved: “Although there’s only so much we can do in terms of getting families to interact more with the children, we do strengthen those relationships as well. We have workshops on how to positively discipline your child, how to work with your child at home, etc. We’ve even taught families how to plant gardens in tyres so that they can grow food for themselves. So, we work with the family and the child as a whole.”

How has Covid-19 affected these learners?

“During the lockdown, we got creative.” Peters says they got friends of the church, school and even teachers to make audio clips of stories that were then sent out to learners. WhatsApp groups were found to be the best way to share small sized files of daily activities that the children could complete at home: “we tried coming up with activities for the kids to do that were linked to the academic standards and objectives, and that we knew were doable.”

After the lockdown, Peters says that many of the learners were just grateful to eat three meals a day again. But they came back scared and anxious because of the things they’d heard about Covid-19 but didn’t understand – such as the new hygiene regulations that they had to follow: you’ve got to wear a mask, you’ve got to sanitise, you’ve got a social distance. All of which is very difficult for a pre-schooler to understand as social interaction is extremely important to their development at that stage. To top it off, many of the learners had forgotten what was taught in the first three months of school. Peters was surprised, though, at how resilient and how adaptable kids are. “They found new ways of playing and socialising, without having to touch.”

How can you help these children?

Peters says she has a list of essential items that donors and partners can help fund or source that would be greatly beneficial to these learners. Peters points out the need for a speech therapist as some learners suffer from speech impediments or other speech problems. For more information on how you can assist Peters and her team, visit The Love Trust website at today!

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