Occupational therapy support for ECD centres – a project of The Chaeli Campaign

HCI Foundation reflective practice series.

Thanks to the generosity of the HCI Foundation, The Chaeli Campaign continues to offer an occupational therapy outreach project to fifty ECD classes in Philippi and Masiphumelele in Cape Town, South Africa.

The goal of this project is to help ECD practitioners and parents in poor socio-economic areas to support their preschool children’s school readiness, especially those children at risk of exclusion due to barriers to learning or disabilities. The model we use is intermittent visits to classrooms on an annual basis and workshops for parents (adapted into WhatsApp and hard copy resources during the Covid 19 pandemic). We believe that investing in ECD practitioners and parents is the best way to support the many children who will benefit from occupational therapy support in our resource-constrained setting. The project is presented by an occupational therapist and community development worker.

Children from poor socio-economic backgrounds are at high risk of having barriers to learning or disabilities due to a variety of factors related to their environment, including:

  • maternal malnutrition/substance abuse,
  •  parents who have little time due to a focus on basic needs or long working hours,
  • restricted access to educational resources and books,
  • limited access to health and early learning services,
  • exposure to recurrent traumas,
  • restricted play opportunities due to crime and violence,
  • excessive amounts of screen time,
  • childhood malnutrition.

This Early Childhood Development poster is a tool to assist in the identification of developmental delays so that early intervention can be sought to improve social interaction, speech, hearing, vision, fine movements and large movements.

In our experience over more than 10 years, many children present with barriers to learning related to fine motor and perceptual delays, as well as communication, concentration, memory and emotional problems. Disabilities most often seen include autism spectrum disorder, eye problems affecting vision, hearing impairment, cerebral palsy, ADHD, foetal alcohol syndrome and down syndrome.

Key messages we share with parents include:

  • the importance of their active participation in their child’s educational journey, especially communication with the teacher,
  •  how enough sleep, healthy food and drinks, physical activity and good health are key to reaching their learning potential,
  • what is expected of a child at various ages, e.g., to remember their parent’s cellphone number and tie shoelaces at 6 years,
  • how everyday activities can be used as informal learning opportunities e.g., discussing body parts and functions during dressing help develop language, counting spoons and plates at breakfast time help develop numeracy etc.
  • what can be done at home to stimulate a child’s development in a certain area of concern e.g., asking them to remember a short list of things to buy at the shops to assist memory skills, getting them to help knead dough to assist fine motor skills etc.
  • when and where to seek support for barriers to learning or disabilities.

Key messages we share with ECD practitioners include:

  • ·how children should sit at the table and on the floor, the development of a tripod pencil grip of the dominant hand with support from their non-dominant hand to stabilise the paper and the correct method of cutting with scissors (thumbs-up cutting) to improve their performance,
  • that is possible for ECD centres to include children with disabilities and that there is help available to support them to do this,
  • ideas to help children with barriers to learning to develop their areas of weakness in the classroom e.g., through exposing them to extra opportunities, adjusting how instructions are given, thinking about positioning in the classroom etc.,
  • how to communicate with parents about challenges their child is displaying without scaring them away from the ECD centre.

Much of a child’s brain development occurs in the first 5 years of life before they start formal schooling and so ensuring that children receive the necessary stimulation and any extra support they need as early as possible will maximise their potential and set them up for success.

We invite you to log onto our website  www.chaelicampaign.org to access further information and resources to support the inclusion of children with barriers to learning or disabilities.

Compiled by Rosemary Luger, Chaeli Campaign occupational therapist and therapy coordinator for HCI Foundation reflective practice series.


‘Reaching out to others and giving of ourselves with passion, creativity and conviction imbues our lives with meaning.’
Corinne Abel