Sleep and Children

By: Shelley Nortje (Clinical Psychologist)

There are many questions that new parents face concerning their child and where they should sleep. What does sleep mean for children? Should the child sleep alone in their own bed? Is co-sleeping helpful or harmful? How can I help my small child get enough restful sleep? Do children dream? This blog will help you to start thinking about sleep as an important part of your child’s daily routine.

Sleeping alone versus co-sleeping:

There is very mixed research regarding whether sleeping alone or co-sleeping is healthier emotionally and physically for one’s child. This debate has become quite a controversial one! Some research suggests that sleeping alone is safer, allows for more restful sleep and develops independence in the child. However, sleep can also be considered as a separation for small children where they must separate from their mother and father in order to fall asleep. The idea of sleeping can then sometimes lead to feelings of anxiety in children. This may be more possible if there has been a recent traumatic separation such as an illness or loss in the family. It is important to handle sleep with the same support and kindness as any other separation, with preparation, routine and consistency.

On the other hand, there is also evidence that suggests that co-sleeping promotes secure attachment and high self-esteem. There are pros and cons of both of these options, and new parents are encouraged to think about their lifestyle and what they feel will be a better fit for their family. In many families for example, where there is not space in the home for each child to have their own bedroom or bed, sleeping arrangements may not be so simple. In instances where parents and children share one bed, sleeping alone might feel unfamiliar and scary.

Some helpful sleep hygiene tips for children:

  1. Create rituals:

Rituals such as reading a story together before bedtime, is helpful for you and your child to prepare for bedtime together.

  1. Make sure to have ‘special time’ together with your child during the day:

Daytime closeness such as eating together or playing a board game as a family helps children manage with the separation of a bedtime ritual.

  1. Establish a routine for sleep time:

Routines can help children know what is expected and also prevent them from becoming emotionally upset – children (and adults) are more likely to throw tantrums when tired. 3-5 years old typically sleep 11-13 hours at night, while 6-13 years old need about 9-11 hours of sleep.

  1. Limit screen time, especially in the hours before bedtime.
  2. When your child needs extra reassurance:

If your child needs extra reassurance, for example when they are ill or after a school trip away, check in on him or her every few minutes. This time can be extended as the child gets older and is better able to manage separations.

  1. Sleep and dreaming:

Some parents may not believe that their children are able to have dreams. However, all children dream, and their dreams can sometimes give us some insight into their feelings, fears and desires. Talking to your child about their dreams or nightmares may help you to develop a closer relationship and foster trust with your child and their inner world. When your child shares a nightmare, try to understand your child’s fears. Dismissing them or making fun of them will make your child less likely to open up about what is worrying them.

Some helpful websites on sleep and sleep disorders:

Working with hearing impairment

By: Kimanta Moodley (Intern Educational Psychologist)

This blog topic is one that speaks to my heart and soul… Working with the d/Deaf community has been something that I fell into by chance. It all started when I was at University and I needed to carry a course while I was on the waiting list for Sociology. It was my first year at University and the options of what course to choose from seemed endless. Alas, I saw a d/Deaf man (who turned out to be one of my lecturers that year) with his interpreter signing to one another. It literally stopped me in my tracks and I thought to myself, imagine if I could sign, how cool would that be? I signed up immediately and still thought to myself that this was just a ‘filler’ course while I waited to be placed for Sociology. This of course never happened. I ended up getting my Honours in South African Sign Language! It literally changed the way I saw people, d/Deaf people in particular. Without ever having studied about the d/Deaf community, engaged with them and learned about their culture, I would perhaps have always felt pity for d/Deaf people or over enunciate had I ever come into contact with a d/Deaf person.

“Deaf people can do anything that hearing people can do, except hear…”

My perspective obviously changed and I was able to be open to learning that people with a hearing impairment are just people! They have varying levels of hearing loss and choose different ways in which to express themselves. There are people who are regarded as being profoundly deaf and these people are often associated with a lowercase d. It is often the lowercase deaf that is viewed more from a medical perspective as the hearing loss is seen as something that can be treated by means of some type of amplification device such as hearing aid or a cochlear implant. This will enable, in certain cases the person to make use of their residual hearing. Another way that people can be viewed is with an uppercase D. Deaf people who associate with this prefer to be acknowledged as a linguistic and cultural minority group where sign language is their primary means of communication and their culture as being a Deaf Culture.

It is important for individuals working with the d/Deaf community to be aware of the differences. It is also important to be aware that d/Deaf individuals experience the world in a similar manner to how a hearing individual does, just that their means become more visual. Also, there are a rare amount of professionals in the field who are able to work with and help the d/Deaf community due to a variety of reasons, one of the many reasons being language. In South Africa, along with many other countries in the world, the d/Deaf population is often classed at a minority language group. Some countries have recognized and implemented sign language as one of the official languages of the country, however in South African, Sign Language is not recognized as the 12th official language and its usage in schools for the d/Deaf and institutions working with d/Deaf people are not always implemented.

From my learning about the d/Deaf community, there are a higher percentage of d/Deaf babies born into hearing families (90-95%). This means that most of the time, the birth of a d/Deaf baby to hearing parents is often a shock and a surprise. Some parents are emotionally able to work through the fact that their baby cannot hear and will find other means to communicate, either by learning sign language and sending their baby to a school for the d/Deaf or signing and speaking to the baby as they grow. However, not all parents are able to accept this and emotionally it can be quite challenging for parents to accept and deal with. Further complications come in when parents will not accept the deafness and will keep trying to fix it. The emotional consequence of not learning in a language that is most accessible to anyone is vast. For a child who is identified as being deaf when they are 7 or 8 years old, is already very late for language development and the emotional impact of placing a child of that age in grade 1, with no language is difficult. One such difficulty to consider is the possibility of the child being bullied for being older than everyone else. Another example is the possible feeling of being excluded when conversations are happening, either at the dinner table or listening to news from the radio in in passing conversation. In these instances, if there is no member of the family who can sign, the d/Deaf child often does not get the information that is being exchanged in spoken language and they are left out. Emotional difficulties that are frequently attached to d/Deaf people are feelings of frustration, isolation, exclusion, depression and anxiety as they are often left feeling quite misunderstood.

In light of the above, it is important to keep the following in mind – sign language is a visually-based language. This means that there are non-verbal behaviours such as facial expressions, eye contact and body movements when communicating with a d/Deaf individual. Also, if the use of an interpreter is made, the person should still communicate and speak to the d/Deaf person as they would a hearing person. They should try to avoid over-enunciating their words or speaking to the interpreter. They should try to speak to the d/Deaf person directly, maintaining eye contact and allowing the interpreter to make the connections between signed and spoken language.

 “No-one is as Deaf as the man who will not listen…”

The Role of the Teacher in the Preschool Years

Hazel Masiko (Grade R practitioner and Vice principal of the Ububele Pre-school)

A personal story:

I would like to begin this blog by sharing a story of a young boy who was in my class several years ago, and whose memory inspired the topic of this blog. Chippendale (his name has been changed for confidentiality) first came to Ububele Preschool when he was just 4 years old and had an articulation problem. His lack of language skills however did not hinder him from becoming a delightful, motivated and perceptive little boy. He always had a warm and friendly disposition and was confident.

On Monday mornings during the ‘weekend news’ activity, Chippendale would mumble and point around, talking in a language that only he could understand. Even though we could not understand him, his face would light up and he seemed to feel very excited about relating to me and his friends how his weekend had been.

The following year, Chippendale was retained because he still lacked language skills and his cognitive capabilities were not yet well-developed. With praise and recognition, Chippendale would enthusiastically participate and enjoy action songs. With class activities he would work diligently and conscientiously and he seemed to feel proud of his achievements.

He then started uttering the words “mama” and “papa”. The vocabulary grew to “garage”, “Alex” and “coke”. I would help him string the words together – “you went to Alex and bought a coke at the garage” for example. He would nod his head with delight because the teacher understood him. In class, Chippendale was never singled out as a child with a challenge; he was included in all class activities and spoken to like any other child. I think this made him feel accepted, safe, understood and cared for.

Towards the end of the second year, the little boy could say sentences and spoke more clearly. His determination and positive attitude helped him overcome his difficulty, although it was a slow and difficult process. To me, his teacher, he was a source of amazement and inspiration. Helping Chippendale rise above his limitations, gives me a pleasant and warm feeling of happiness and achievement.

“The marvellous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome” – Helen Keller (1980-1968)

preschool pic

The role of early childhood educators:

An essential part of a child’s successful early school learning is the quality of the teacher-child relationship and the abilities of teachers to provide a positive, consistent and responsive environment. All children have the right to meaningful participation in education.

If you have a good teacher who understands what young children’s learning us about and knows their subjects reasonably well, then you’ve gone a long way. It’s not about the facilities and curriculum, although we need a roof and clean toilets – It’s about the teacher!”

– Professor Elizabeth Henning, director of the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Education Practice Research, on the Soweto Campus.

Some of the responsibilities of early childhood educators:

  • To keep small children safe from harm
  • To help small children adjust with the separation from their parents each morning
  • To encourage children to find their own answers through play and exploration
  • To provide a developmentally appropriate environment filled with tools for play and learning (e.g.: clay, dolls, paper, balls etc.)
  • To listen carefully to a child’s needs, whether expressed verbally or non-verbally
  • To communicate and engage with parents, caregivers and other staff members

At the Ububele Preschool for example, the teachers attempt to increase children’s on-task behaviours, reading skills and academic competence. They learn best when exposed to the PQRST strategy:
P: participate

Q: question

R: reason and respond

S: use all senses

T: think for themselves

Some important skills that preschool teachers impart to their students are:

  • Teaching number work: counting, adding and subtracting using fingers, lids, acorns etc.
  • Enhancing language: through stories, theme discussions, news, songs and rhymes
  • Allowing free choice or play: they are able to communicate and identify problems

When the learners leave the Ububele pre-school for Grade 1, we often hear that they are doing well and managing with the new tasks set out for them in big-school!

Activities for Winters Days with Pre-schoolers

By: Marilise Nel (Intern Counselling Psychologist)

As winter is fast approaching, some parents wonder how they might go about entertaining their preschool child indoors. Many parents feel that they do not always have the financial means to do big outings with their child over weekend or school holidays. The great news is that all a child needs is some creativity, a bit of guidance from their caregiver, and an hour or two to play at home or in the neighbourhood. Children learn continuously through play, and by supporting them in this exploration, you as caregiver are encouraging their preparation for their school career.

There are many activities which can be done indoors or in the neighbourhood, and which are very well aligned to a child’s developmental growth. Children’s development can be divided into six main categories, which each contribute to their overall school readiness. These categories include:

  • Large muscle or physical development: the ability to run, kick, throw a ball and to walk upstairs with one foot after another.
  • Fine motor ability: the hand-work and visual ability of the child, and the coordination between the two. Examples of skills in this area include using a scissor to cut paper or the skills of stringing beads onto string.
  • Performance ability: Planning abilities, sequencing skills and working with speed, the ability to build structures, such as a puzzle, or building a structure out of individual blocks.
  • Practical reasoning: Numerical abilities and simple problem solving, including counting, comparing large and small items, or naming the days of the week.
  • Language: getting to know the alphabet, understanding everyday words and how to use them, as well as knowing similarities and differences between simple objects.
  • Social skills: knowing their family name, their date of birth and being able to help themselves with simple tasks, such as getting a glass of water, or communicating with friends during play.

Whilst keeping these developmental areas in mind, the following activities, which are very simple and inexpensive, can really assist in a child’s learning, whilst also creating heaps of entertainment during the cooler winter months.

  1. Activities with a bit of movement

Whilst you are out and about

  • Walk in the neighbourhood or on the way to the shops and play a game of “I-Spy”. One person will name the object that they see being a certain shape, colour, or starting with a specific letter from the alphabet, and the other person gets to guess what it is. This helps to expand vocabulary and explore new words and meanings.
  • Use a small ball and play in any open space that is safe: practice kicking the ball with one foot, then the other, running up to the ball and kicking it, or passing the ball to one another.

Rainy day games

  • Put on some rain boots and splash in puddles outdoors. You can even tie two plastic bags around your usual shoes to keep them dry.
  • Talk about how water flows: down gutters, along sidewalks, down hills, down to where puddles form. Speak about the importance of water, or play a game of naming all the things we use water for in the house and outside, like cooking food, making tea, washing dishes, washing our clothes, watering plants etc. When you get home, ask your child to draw a picture about all the things he/she has learned about water.
  • Bring paintbrushes outside (or use branches or natural grasses), and use the water from the puddles of rain to paint on the sidewalk.
  1. Activities with items from the home

Creativity can really be sourced right inside your home. Make a habit of keeping left-over items, such as toilet rolls, string, ribbon, old buttons, glass jars, colourful paper and so on to use for craft activities.

  • Paper plates and beads art: You will need some left-over wool, ribbon, buttons and beads, glue, a black pen, and a paper plate. Draw a picture such as a house or flower on the paper plate, and get your child to stick down some beads, buttons and wool inside the lines. This activity helps with fine motor skills, sorting colours and shapes, especially fine motor dexterity and a tip-to-tip grasp using the index finger and thumb.
  • Stringing fun: Use some string and dried pasta (such as macaroni), beads or old toilet paper holders. Create a necklace by stringing the pasta/beads/toilet rolls onto the string. The importance is that the child practices how to hold the string and manoeuvre the item onto the string. This really helps with fine motor development and hand and eye coordination.

toilet roll string

  • Cardboard tubes and a marble race: Use cardboard rolls and create connections for the tunnels. Use one or two marbles and run these through the tunnel to see how far it will go.
  • Sorting coins: Take out some coins that you have and place them in a shallow container. Get your child to sort these into categories i.e. size and colour. The important part is also for the child to pick up the coin using his index finger and thumb. Lastly, make sure you help to count all the coins in the different groups. You can also use the coins to build a tower. It is recommended that everybody remembers to wash their hands after handling all the coins.
  • Building blocks: Gather small cardboard boxes (such as toothpaste/deodorant/medicine or pasta packaging) and a build tower or a fort from the items. You can also do this with plastic containers from the kitchen. Compare the heights of the towers or count how many items you had to use to build a fort.
  1. Activities in the neighbourhood
  • Nature Walk: Walk around the neighbourhood and collect leaves, stones, twigs, pine cones and other objects from nature. Place them on a tray and guide your child in counting how many items there are, or compare their shapes and colours. You can focus on which ones look similar or different, and discuss the colours or textures that you can see. You can also stick these down onto a white cardboard and draw in the names of each item.
  • Leaf Stencils: Use leaves that you have gathered and paint them on one side. Use this as a stencil to imprint the leaf shape onto a piece of paper.

leaf stencil

  1. Creative activities
  • Growing beans: Children really enjoy learning about plants, water, the plant’s roots, and how we grow food. You will need an old glass jar, some cotton wool (or a bit of soil) and a few dried beans. Spend some time planting the beans in the cotton ball or soil, watering it and placing it on the windowsill. If you plant it about 1cm from the top, the bean should sprout in about 4 days. Watch it grow, and after a week or two, plant it outside in a sunny place.
  • Sorting Smarties game: Buy a box of smarties and use similar coloured containers or painted egg boxes. Have your child sort out all the different colours into each cup, for example yellow smarties into the yellow cup and so on. They can also count how many there are of each colour, and then get to eat them as a fun reward.

sorting smarties game

  • Paint colour puzzle: Gather some paint colour index cards from a local shop that sells paint. Make sure that you get two of each of the cards, and gather a variety of colours (green, red, yellow, blue and so on). Use one of the card samples and cut out the card, and glue it down onto a wooden clothes peg. Do so with all the other colours as well, creating a peg for each colour card. You can now play the colour puzzle game, whereby your child matches the colour to the remaining card by simply pegging it on.
  1. Nurturing language activities
  • Create your own story game: The child gets to choose four or six things that he wants to be in a story, for example, a cat, a bicycle, a dinosaur and a rainbow. The parent then makes up any creative story with a beginning, middle and end using the named items. The child can get to say what they liked about the story, and get a chance to tell their own version of the story using the same objects.
  • In order to also improve language skills, a parent can read the child an age appropriate book, and in doing so spend one-on-one time with the child, whilst the focus falls on explaining the meaning of the words, pointing out feeling words and discussing the story and characters in the books.

Playing with your child is not only about the development of your child on a physical level, but also about building a relationship and growing emotionally. By delighting in your child through these fun activities, you will help your child to feel supported and assist in building his or her self-esteem. Children enjoy creative activities, but even more than this, children enjoy you spending time being with them whilst they explore their world and learn.

If you enjoyed reading about easy ways to entertain your child, and would like to find out more about using items that are readily available, you can source the internet for many website which foster creative developmental learning. Many of these websites offer activities that have been recommended by occupational therapists or educational psychologists. For further inspiration, feel free to visits , or Pinterest for more ideas. Please note that the photographs posted here to illustrate some of the ideas are originally from the above websites.

Individuality Within a Group

By Oscarina Majokweni (Counselling Psychologist)

The group and individual are not independent and separate, but are intimately connected and fundamentally inseparable. One cannot celebrate the individual without celebrating the “group” and visa versa (Jetten & Postmes, 2006). In addition, Jetten and Postmes (2006) further postulate that many philosophers struggle with the distinction between individual and collective interest and that there is a fundamental tension between the two; they appear to stand in opposition. For instance, Hobbes (1650/1931) concluded that the relationship between the individual and the collective is fundamentally conflictual. As a result, the integration of individuality within groups is a continuous working process within ourselves and with those around us.

Large group seated in spiral

For example, a client once shared that she has difficulty in meeting with her friends and felt overwhelmed when in the midst of her family. She came up with excuses (‘no petrol’) to avoid meeting her friends. Yet in actual fact, she knew the roots of her difficulty. She perceived herself as a person who would not fit in the group or have anything valuable to share. She thought that she was different to her friends in terms of lifestyles. The friends always enjoyed who she is but it was hard for her to believe this. As she continued therapy, she began to understand her background and deal with her past, which made her appreciate her individuality in different groups. She said, “coming to see you has been such a complicated process. I am learning to understand myself and beginning to be more accepting and comfortable in my own skin in different spaces.”

People are born individuals. However as they develop, they become part of different groups such as their families, friends and the larger society. The family may groom parts which may differ from those cultivated by the society. The mother gives birth to a baby who has a personality with different facets. For example, a baby is born calm, always smiles and loves people’s attention. Yet her environment will have an impact on how she changes. For instance, the parents may let her cry alone for a long time, ignored when in need of attention and miscue her communications. This may lead to baby being withdrawn and learning to do things for herself. As she grows she may not be comfortable in being part of crowds, rather enjoying one-on-one friendships and interactions. Her character may be regarded as introverted and private. Moreover, the society focuses on the person’s nationality, racial and generational group, and cultural practices. A person grows to be a South African, black African, Xhosa speaking, Christian Millennial, for instance. These categories may reflect differently at work and other organisations which connect to the person’s individuality. Thus personality and history mould character and one cannot separate the individuality from a group.

However, the conflict that arises in differentiating the individual and collective interest makes it hard to integrate the parts of a person to a whole. People play different roles in different groups. A person may be a mother and wife in a family and her role can be the nurturer and the organiser.  She is in charge and her children expect her to protect them from danger. But this may be a challenge when she is in friendship circles as she may want to organise all the events and not share responsibilities. The other friends, coming into the group with their own histories and characteristics, may find her difficult and dislike her. They may want her to play a different role, for instance to be the joker and nurturer. It is at times difficult for people to accept one’s character and make use of it in a positive manner. Janis (1982) suggested that cohesion suppresses individual voice and that disastrous decision-making outcomes were the result of a lack of individuality in ordinary group members (Jetten & Postmes, 2000). For example, it may come naturally for a mother to be a nurturer to her children. However, it may not be easy to do this in all spaces as she may want to be nurtured herself. Her friends expect her to be a nurturer and this may create turmoil in her, yet she may fulfill this role without voicing her difficulties to create harmony in the group. This could result in her feeling that her needs are not met in the group. It is therefore very difficult at times to differentiate and identify the appropriate needs for you and the group.

The ultimate goal may be to accept and understand the self and the different aspects in groups around us. Therefore an individual continues to reflect on who she is and how she impacts the different spaces, which may be difficult because of the deep emotional roots that may be conscious or unconscious. The different groups have diverse dynamics which need to be respected and brought to awareness. Therefore it is a continual, working process to integrate and celebrate individuality within groups.


Children’s Play

By: Linda Bresgi (Intern Educational Psychologist)

“Children’s play is not mere sport. It is full of meaning and import.” – F. Froebel

Play as learning:

According to early childhood specialist Davin (2013), play is the most valuable activity for the purpose of learning and a program that limits the time children spend playing limits their opportunities to learn.  Play and school readiness are highly correlated and according to Landreth (2012) play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.

Research shows that the first five years of life are critical to a child’s lifelong development. Young children’s earliest experiences and environment set the stage for future development and success in school and life. Early experiences can actually influence brain development, establishing the neural connections that offer the foundation for language, reasoning, problem solving, social skills, behaviour and emotional health (Papalia, Olds & Feldman, 2008). School Maturation on the other hand refers to a biological process in the development when certain skills emerge before children start school. This implies physical as well as mental maturity. This maturation process cannot be rushed but appropriate and consistent support by caregivers can help the process along (Davin, 2013).


What is free play?

Free play can be understood as a self-motivated, unstructured activity where the child chooses what and how to play.  Free play is “free”, because the child chooses what he does, how he does it, how long he does it and with whom he does it. Free play is “play”, because the activity creates pleasure within the child. However, free play also involves learning and is considered essential for the all-round development of the child. Learning however begins long before a child enters pre-school.

How can parents facilitate free play?

No child becomes ready on their own. It is an ongoing process and infants and young children thrive when parents and families are able to surround them with love and support and opportunities to learn and explore their world (Webster-Stratton, 2013).

Free play can include imaginative play, such as ‘dressing up’ or playing games such as ‘cops-and-robbers’. Encouraging fantasy play need not, however, cost parents money. Parents could for example enhance fantasy play by providing their children with props and items such as old dresses, shoes, empty shampoo bottles or an old hair dryer. Free play can also include; building with blocks or construction material, manipulative play such as playing with clay or water. Perceptual games such as memory games and puzzles, and also, outdoor play, such as climbing on the jungle gyms, kicking around a ball or playing in the sandpit.

Why is free play important?

Free play offers children the opportunity to choose for themselves, therefore encouraging independent decision making. There is no right or wrong choices with play and therefore children can manage at their own developmental levels. There is no chance of failure at free play and consequently encourages a positive self-esteem.

Free play also has an important role in the social development of the child. Playing offers an opportunity to learn socially acceptable behaviour such as taking turns and sharing and aids in the child becoming less egocentric. Free play also plays a valuable role in the language and cognitive development of the child as it provides an opportunity to use language creatively, learn new vocabulary and become familiar with certain concepts such as ‘in’, ‘out’, ‘on top’, underneath’. It also offers opportunities for problem solving, leadership and creative thinking.

In a world of TV’s, IPads and computer games, children seem to be spending less and less time being physically active. With the rise of obesity and associative diseases in our society, physical exercise needs to play a larger role in their daily program. During free play, children are encouraged to play outdoors, thus helping maintain their physical health. Physical exercise is not only beneficial for the burning up of energy, but also benefits children’s gross motor and fine motor development, eye-hand and eye-foot coordination.

In terms of emotional development, play allows children to express themselves freely and become familiar and comfortable with a variety of feelings. Playing is therapeutic for children as it allows the child a chance to act out experiences and deal with their emotions through their play.

Ububele and play:

Ububele recognises the importance of play in the facilitation of school readiness and school maturation. Furthermore, Ububele also acknowledges that the process can be enhanced by the relationship between the caregiver and child and supporting opportunities that encourage play.  The ‘Right to play’ programme that runs out of the Ububele mobile bus that visits Stjwetla on a regular basis is an example of how Ububele aims to facilitate parent-child relationships through play.  During the sessions, facilitators encourage the various domains of school readiness; physical and motor, emotional and social, cognitive and language development through interaction with the children and their caregivers.  The success of the programme relies on the understanding that in order for the programme to be of most benefit, caregivers also need to become involved!

If a child is provided with the right environment, they will play meaningfully and reach their full potential of learning opportunities through play.  Over time, Ububele is slowly starting to help parents realise the importance of their involvement in motivating play and creating play opportunities in the development of skills related to reading, writing, mathematics and emotional well-being. These are important skills children need to acquire with regards to learning and ‘school readiness’.