EARLY childhood development is an essential part of nurturing a nation's future leaders, three community workers have said.
Mary Mabatle, Suzan Matlou and Martha Senamatlele - who are the top three winners of the 2009 Early Childhood Development (ECD) Awards - are among the cream of the crop of selfless, highly industrious, innovative, inventive and compassionate nurturers in the awards' home-based ECD centres or playgroup category.
All three have several sponsoring and organising partners to thank for their being recognised and rewarded, and these are Sowetan, Absa, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, Aggrey Klaaste Nation Building Foundation, SA Congress for ECD, the Education and Social Development Departments and SABC Education.
Mabatle, Matlou and Senamatlele are agreed on this: Keeping children at home with granny or any other guardian is acceptable, but not advisable.
Their argument? At a creche or early childhood development centre is where your child is moulded into a well-rounded human being and shaped into a true future leader.
Here's why, said Senamathele of Iketsetseng Crèche in Free State: "As a well-trained person working with children I have come to see the value of taking kids to a home away from home, an ECD centre or crèche, because here the kids are taught to make friends, find themselves among others, gain self-confidence and learn about one of the most crucial human value we take for granted: friendship."
Matlou, of Ikageng Creche in Limpopo, said: "We encourage a natural developmental instinct in children: playing with others and learning lots of things from them at the same time.
"As they play, children develop the small and big muscles, improve and even perfect their hand and eye coordination, while being empowered to interact competitively with their peers."
Mabatle, of Kgantsho Day Care Centre in North West, said: "Children with their toys and their friends indoors or outdoors are always a marvelous sight.
"That is when you see a human being taking shape, creatively, and encountering, coping with and even overcoming conflict; while the adults guide them along the way."
They all agree that parents have a supportive role to play: continuing the nurturing role at home, enhancing the kids' cognitive skills, coordination prowess and reading to the little ones, and encouraging them to read, discovering a whole new world, between the pages.
The ECD awards seek to create:
lA sector of skilled and motivated ECD resource and training organisations, home-based and community-based centres and ECD practitioners;
lPromote and recognise the excellence, hard work, dedication and investment in the future of our children by individual practitioners, centres and organisations involved in the ECD sector;
lAnd to contribute to the children's development and signify an appreciation of a child's health, nutrition, education, psychological and additional environmental factors within the family, community and the society.