Time to Play! 4 Programs Teaching Early Learning Through Play

Calla McCabe

Playtime is an important part of every child's life. In addition to being fun for children, play helps with social, emotional, intellectual and physical development.  A Play for Change report shows that play also teaches children imagination, independence, creativity, problem-solving, and risk-taking. Many education programs are increasingly incorporating play in their programming. These four programs profiled in the CEI database aim make play a primary focus in every day schooling.

Lively Minds Uganda targets rural communities with no government primary schools or pre-schools. They train 30 mothers within each community to run educational Play Centers for all children aged 3-6 in the community.  The Centers take place in any local building and are free of charge. The mothers teach using games made from cheap local materials and interactive discovery-based methods. Teaching takes place in small groups (a 1:4, parent-child ratio) so children can receive proper attention and mental stimulation.  Children learn through play by using in five different skillsets to enhance cognitive and socio-emotional development.  Many health and hygiene activities are also incorporated into the school day.  As this is a behavior change program, the communities are given a two-year support package to reinforce new behaviors and to provide capacity-building opportunities. This includes regular monitoring and monthly parenting and 'second chance learning' workshops for the mothers. These workshops incentivize mothers and improve their home-based play and care, confidence, and wellbeing. 

Little Sisters Preschool is an early childhood education and development program in China that uses a unique and progressive curriculum to holistically develop children aged 2-8 years living in institutions so that they can reach their full potential and be fully integrated into the mainstream Chinese national education system. Historically, children in China's institutions were mainly girls whereas now, more and more children with special needs are filling orphanages. Teachers support children in exploring new concepts and developing motor skills through art, music, reading, and imaginary play. Teachers provide a way for the children to weave together their experiences from one day to the next to give stability to students' lives. This is often transformative for children living in institutions. As a uniquely combined curriculum, the Little Sisters Preschools program enables staff to meet the needs of both healthy children as well as children with special needs.

FACE Early Childhood Development Program is an alternative care program for orphaned, abandoned, and abused children from infancy to 2 years old in Cairo, Egypt. The early childhood development program is specifically designed to ensure the healthy growth and development of the children. Children benefit from routine activities that give structure and variety to their daily lives. Babies take part in interactive activities and play sessions. These include finger painting, sponge painting, and playing with musical instruments, puppets, and playdough. Each child at the orphanage also has their development tracked through an individual memory book and medical file. FACE recognizes that it is important that the children do not become "institutionalized" and as such facilitates interaction with the outside world while ensuring that the children remain safe at all times. 

East African Playgrounds is a charity working to enhance children’s development through play. EAP works alongside local communities to build simulating and exciting playgrounds alongside running arts and games programs. EAP offers playgrounds to schools and local children’s centers in Uganda at no cost. Academic institutions apply to EAP and must demonstrate a passion for play alongside having adequate infrastructure and grounds. They must also providing the cost for some recyclable materials for the playground. An initial consultation is held to understand the needs of the community at a particular institution, understand how the children play, what aspects of play they value, and what is of importance in their own culture and location. Each playground is custom made to match these needs. In particular, EAP will draw out 6 key features of learning through play: 1) activity, 2) low-cost or free, 3) games, 4) imagination, 5) rest, and 6) creativity. Playground design is often a team effort drawing on the interests of the children, EAP expertise, and the expertise of international and local designers. A playground can be designed to different sizes and choosing from a variety of over 140 apparatus designs.

To learn more about early childhood development programs with a focus on learning through play, check out the following programs and resources on the CEI website:

  • Siyakwazi provides learning support for students, irrespective of disabilities or learning difficulties. This takes place in rural Ugu district of South Africa through partnerships with crèches, schools, parents, and therapists to identify and support students with special needs, as well as supporting educators to best assist all the students in their classes.
  • Early Childhood Education - Asidlale develops the education and skills of teachers and children in early childhood development centers through a tailored daily curriculum, resources, and on-site mentoring in South Africa.
  • The Teachers Resource Center in Kenya designs and develops topic-based teaching and learning materials to providing solutions for learning problems. Schools are able to buy these materials and receive a training session on how to best utilize them.

Image above from Little Sisters Preschool.

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