I had never been to a workshop quite like the recent Booklatan that the National Book Development Board (NBDB) had in Valenzuela on that Friday in August, the day before Tropical Storm “Maring” and the habagat began to unleash pouring rain across the country. In its previous format, NBDB’s quarterly Booklatan session was designed to encourage readership among teachers and librarians.
Since NBDB signed a recent partnership with the Save the Children’s First Read Program, the usual format has undergone significant changes. The thrust, in keeping with the government agency’s mandate, is still toward literacy and developing the reading habit, but with a special emphasis now on a much younger target audience—children from the ages 0-4 years.
The day’s 364 participants were an unusual bunch—young mothers, caregivers and a handful of fathers, all of them with eager youngsters in tow, trooped into the cavernous and comfortable Valenzuela Astrodome. They were selected by community workers to attend a 10-session parenting series. Booklatan was part of the series.
One initially wondered how the children would last the entire workshop day. While it is usual practice for parents to bring their young to meetings and similar events because no one would be looking after them at home, for this program it was mandatory to bring the children, after all, the workshop was ultimately meant for them. The parents needed to immediately implement the special rearing techniques taught them to ensure that their parenting involved three important components: proper nutrition; opportunities to explore, and play in, a safe environment; stimulation or interaction and emotional support from at least one caregiver.
The day began with a basic orientation presentation made by Maya P. Nayo, an adviser on early childhood care and development, who emphasized the importance of the 0-4 stage in a child’s brain development. Though the statements were supported by research, Nayo presented these in a very friendly and nonthreatening way—and in Filipino. Through a fun tama o mali quiz, the adult participants disabused themselves of many common false notions, which led them to rethink their long-held beliefs. Among these false notions: The child’s brain is already completely set at birth; and that it is an utter waste of time to read to a newborn because the child would not be able to understand what you are saying, anyway.
The parents learned that while newborns cannot read, providing them with a language-rich environment ensures reading success for them. Aside from reading, there are many other ways to actively engage the child, such as talking, singing, listening to music. It is “live” language that is valuable for language development and vocabulary building, rather than language from television.
The issue of “bansot” or stunting in children before the age of three due to malnutrition—sadly a common occurrence in underprivileged homes—merited serious attention. There is no undoing its ill effects especially on brain growth and eventual school performance, thus, the pressing need to make this a true priority.
And so, the day passed providing concrete experiences to illustrate what would have been general principles. After the opening ceremonies and introductory lecture and poetry reading by Makata ng Taon 2013 Joselito de los Reyes, it was play time for parents and children who scampered off to the mats assigned to them, now turning their attention to stuffed toys and a variety of books. It was time for their structured playgroup session where they were divided into groups of 10.
The parents, along with their children, also learned from seasoned trainers—storytelling techniques for personality development and character-building from award-winning author and La Salle College professor Genaro Gojo Cruz and performer Fredyl Hernandez; how to make and illustrate storybooks using recycled materials like cloth scraps and dried leaves from Alma Quinto.
It was apparent that these parents, like any other, wished only the best for their children. Equipped with reminders about what good parenting is all about, they would need all the support to put into constant practice all of the day’s learning.
The venue was ideal for the children—a truly safe and welcoming environment with eye-catching red, blue, yellow chairs. I wish I had met Valenzuela Mayor Rexlon T. Gatchalian to congratulate him on the well-maintained Astrodome, which somehow exemplified the quality of service the local government feels its constituents are entitled to.
The same building housed the Department of Education’s Library Hub, whose book collection was neatly kept and properly labelled in plastic storage boxes. However, the spic and span look was disturbing: The security guard did say that the assigned librarian was on leave, but where was the expected clutter showing evidence of high usage?
If you wish to support First Read/Save the Children, please contact @PHSaveChildren on Twitter or call 8532142/8513702/8549973/ 8514494. Trust me, this is an honest-to-goodness functioning NGO with no dubious connections. Otherwise, they would have no need for their corporate sponsors like PRU Life UK Philippines.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (email@example.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.