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Community PlaySchools to support children, families and communities.

A project to support early development in small communities by setting up PlaySchools. These will be set up by support staff, who will train local volunteers in early development, nutrition for young children etc., as well as learning games, music and storytelling activities. Once the school is established and operating well, the support staff will move on to create the same project in other villages.

Photo of G. Quinque
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They say it takes a village to raise a child - an idea that has been discussed a great deal on this platform! When we talk about supporting the development of young children, especially in some of the poorest communities in the world, we are not only talking about mothers and immediate families understanding and supporting that development in their children, but also how can communities come together to support early development in their young, in a way that works for and supports the children, the families and the communities more broadly. Often when we talk about solutions to deal with information regarding early development, we talk about information services or community projects that pull from a large base of available human capital, both of which assume an underlying level of resources and infrastructure that might not be available, especially in the poorest and most inaccessible areas in the world. There might also be lots of existing social factors that we have to consider in these locations, which make education or action on this topic difficult, and we need to be sensitive and flexible when we consider the diversity of cultural situations around the world. For example; it might be that, even if we could educate mother on key principles of early development, it would be meaningless on its own as mothers would still be required to go out and work, and so we have to tackle these issues in tandem, supporting both the mothers/families and communities. This project is aimed at these communities, where there might be little or no underlying infrastructure, a small base of human capital available, and a number of existing and complex factors that we need to consider.

Our idea is to train a network of support staff who will set up PlaySchools in these communities, which support early development of the children, as well as supporting the community around them. These staff are trained in early development in reasonable detail, about cognitive, social, language and physical development during ages 0-5 (and possibly upwards of 5). They are trained about nutrition that young children require to support their development, and trained in how the resources available to these communities, such as locally available meats and crops, can best be matched to the nutrition needs of infants to support their growth (they will also be trained in how to support the activities of the PlaySchool, such as teaching and games, which we will describe in more details further down). These support staff will also initiate and orchestrate the development of the PlaySchool, including finding space for it to run (bearing in mind that it does not necessarily require a building to run, but could be run outside in some open space), and they will find volunteers from the local community that are enthusiastic about the project. These volunteers might be mothers or grandmothers, many of whom will already have lots of experience of raising children in this community. This detail is important, as for the PlaySchool to be a success in these small communities, it should be run by members of that community. 

The support staff will then train the volunteers about development principles, nutrition for young children etc. They may also help in training the volunteers in other ways if necessary, such as principles of hygiene that are specific for the needs of young children to support their development. These activities may be supported with distribution of materials outlining these principles and ideas - such as laminated cards showing what foods infants need and in what quantities, what activities best support different aspects of development, etc.

The support staff will also be trained, and in turn train the volunteers, in matter regarding the everyday activity of the PlaySchool. These activities may also be specific to the environment or values of the community in question, but at this stage we consider that generally there should be five areas of focus; music, craft, storytelling, learning games and physical games.
  • Music, craft and storytelling are important parts of early development and also important parts of the cultural identity of many groups of people, so we are able to support both cultural identity and cognition, language development and social development.
  • Learning games, such as games involving numeracy and vocabulary also hugely support cognitive and language ability.
  • Physical games may be things as simple as active games such as 'Tig', which encourage social and physical development.
The combination of these five areas supports all major areas of development, and provides an encouraging environment for the children.

In terms of resources, we hope that many of the tools and toys needed for games, craft and music can be constructed from things in the surrounding environment, and could be as simple as using blocks of wood in counting games. Regarding physical games, there are a number of resources that could be very helpful, such as the 'One World Futbol' (

The hope is that these PlaySchools will create an environment that supports infants in a wide variety of ways, creates an understanding in developing communities about nutrition and hygiene for young children, provides an environment where some mothers who have to work shortly after their child's birth are able to receive the support of trusted available human capital in their community, builds community relationship including friendships for the children, and that once the PlaySchool is operational and working well, that the support staff will be able to move on the create the same project in other villages.

Related videos, articles and resources;

Enriching education through play in Ethiopia

Music in brain development of young children

Benefits of playing an instrument for your brain

Playground Ideas

What do babies think?



Just two further resources and ideas that we have had;

This first link is a site, similar to openIdeo, but that is specific to building community areas and playgrounds - it has some really great posts and material available, including a focus on locally available materials and playground safety!

Regarding instruments, we managed to find two instruments that are relevant to African culture, and could hopefully be created from locally avaliable materials.


Who will benefit from this idea and where are they located?

This project is aimed at benefiting not only young children in their development, but also families and entire communities in which the project is placed. The areas of the world that this project is most relevant for are small communities, in very poor and/or isolated areas of the developing world, with little or no underlying infrastructure.

How could you test this idea in a quick and low-cost way right now?

Pilots for this project would ideally be run with help from some NGO or NGOs already working in a target area, who have a thorough understanding of the cultural setting and available resources that the pilot would have. This project doesn't require much in the way of financing, the main investment is the time on the part of the support staff.

What kind of help would you need to make your idea real?

Feedback from the OpenIDEO community is certainly appreciated, especially regarding specifics for areas that could benefit, and any groups that already exist which would be able to support the launch of this service, such as development NGOs.

Is this an idea that you or your organization would like to take forward?

  • Yes. I am looking for partners that might be interested in taking this idea forward in their communities.


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Photo of Charlotte Norris

Hi there.... "mothers who have to work shortly after their child's birth are able to receive the support of trusted available human capital in their community" does this mean mothers get to go out to work while their children stay at the community run playschool? Why not gather donations for things like toys and learning materials? Could you get schools here involved? Maybe by making early learning packs and at the same time raising awareness?

Photo of G. Quinque

Hi Charlotte!

Yeah, we were describing that mothers who are in a position where they have to choose between going to work or looking after their child will be able to go to work safe in the knowledge that their child is okay and is in a supportive environment!

Donations for toys and learning materials sounds like a nice idea - this would probably have to be done in conjunction with an existing charity or aid agency - do you have any idea how this might be organised?

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