A skip into literacy

A Johannesburg-based teacher has come up with an affordable, user-friendly teaching and learning tool that could revolutionise the teaching and learning of spelling and maths while keeping children fit at the same time.

Shane van Staden, a grade R to grade five physical education teacher at the American International School, has developed a multifunctional skipping rope.

Coupled with innovative lesson plans, the programme goes by the name play2think.

“The beauty of this programme is that any person, regardless of age, gender, literacy or maths ability can pick up the rope, increase their fitness level and movement abilities, learn maths and spelling and use the jump rope to fundraise for their school,” Van Staden said.

What he did was to combine existing ideas into something new. He strung up tiles – little three-dimensional square blocks with the alphabet and the numbers zero to nine printed on to them – on a skipping rope. On the playground, children can skip, but in class they can untie the ends of the skipping rope and take off their tiles from the rope for some fun filled learning.


The alphabet, with vowels on red tiles and consonants on white, allow for 600 basic words to be spelt out – for example about, after, into, off, like, what, you. Van Staden has created eight different “literacy and numeracy ropes” that have various combinations of letter and number tiles. He has even devised a method for using the rope to teach geometry.

Van Staden, who is South African, explains how the tiles can be used for letter identification and spelling in the classroom: “You can ask learners to show you an ‘e’. They can simply pick up the tile and hold it up. Even if you have more than the average number of learners in your class, you will be able to see whether they know what you are talking about.” This becomes a means of informal assessment for the teacher.

‘Two or more children can work together to spell words, such as ‘to’ – one contributing the ‘t’ and the other the ‘o’. Similarly children can work in bigger groups to spell longer and more complicated words,” Van Staden adds.

The tiles can be used in the same way to teach maths. Van Staden has acquired lesson plans from an American teacher, Marcy Cook (MC Mathematics), who develops tiling programmes for the use of tiles for basic mathematical calculations. Van Staden could provide these materials to schools which are interested in using the play2think rope.

The tiles and rope are affordably priced compared to traditional tools, including text books. The set, including a rope, tiles and a CD with lesson plans costs just R49.

A huge advantage is the set’s mobility. Children can continue their learning at home to reinforce what they learn at school. Van Staden believes this is a special strength of the tool.

“The best thing about this tool is that if children have their own rope, they can continue to build math and spelling skills outside the classroom and even take it home. There are not too many classroom tools which allow the child to reinforce the same skills at home.

“I have even put a programme together that allows children to demonstrate and ‘teach’ their parents or siblings. You do not find too many math- and word-building programmes that are simple and effective enough for a grade five or six student to teach a peer or an adult. This one can,” says Van Staden.

He has also developed a rope that can be used by a visually impaired students, thus supporting the government’s policy on inclusive education. The tiles have letter and numbers in Braille printed on them. This means sighted and visually impaired learners can work at the same table.

The skipping rope idea took shape after Van Staden rediscovered the skipping rope when he took up amateur boxing at the age of 32. He could perform the movement patterns for boxing, but he could not skip, which is a movement pattern learnt in childhood.

“I decided that this was my next challenge. I canvassed the world and got as much info as I could on skipping. I then learnt the patterns and it fast became one of my favourite passtimes. It is also something I introduced my students to.”

Combining his favourite pastime with the challenges he faced in the classroom about four years ago, Van Staden elevated the skipping rope to new heights.

“I had a number of students that found sitting and completing work a real challenge. One boy in particular learnt better kinaesthetically and just flourished when he could move and interact with the learning material. I had been working with a tiling programme (MC mathematics) since 1995 and decided to combine this maths programme with a jump rope.

“The young boy was very good at skipping and was motivated by his success in acquiring the skills quickly. I decided to use his positive relationship with skipping and have it transposed to the classroom to help him succeed at math. This worked extremely well. I then sat down and compiled tiling programmes from many resources and started the same teaching with spelling and word building,” he explains.

Van Staden is fortunate in that he enjoys the support of the American International School of Johannesburg. The school affords him time to pursue his teaching innovations and provides him with technological resources to compile the programmes. This is part of the school’s service learning programme and its mission to give back to the host country.

Van Staden’s ambition is to put the innovative set into the hands of every child in Africa.

“I honestly believe that the numeracy and literacy rope combined with the brilliant teaching materials from MC mathematics and tiling programmes can make a positive difference to the literacy rate in Africa and allow children to enjoy mathematics,” he says.

Skip 4 health
Shane van Staden has developed a programme that focuses specifically on the fitness of South African children.

The Albany Skip4Health programme, which has a fundraising component, is being implemented at 1 500 schools in the Western Cape. Schools in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Free State are set to follow.

According to Van Staden the skipping rope used in the pro-gramme can be used for 4 800 techniques, yet it cost a mere R20.

Schools that participate in the programme receive equipment and brochures that explain to them how to use the ropes. Instructors also visit the schools to get the children jumping. In the Western Cape top-notch instructors from the Chrysalis Academy provide training and support.

Once a school’s children are jumping, the programme dispenses step-by-step and week-by -week instructions on how the rope could be used to organise fundraising events. This year, the emphasis is on service learning and how schools can provide for the community they are a part of.

For more information contact Jacky at (011) 914 1559 or at [email protected].

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