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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.


Join the conversation:

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?

Photo of Laura Kanter Fellows

Thanks for posting this idea. I would love to hear more about how you envision training local community members to engage in this work, since that is something that my team is trying to think through. Thanks for sharing and hope we can collaborate as we each develop our ideas!

Photo of G. Quinque

Hi Laura!

Training community members is definitely one of the most difficult but also more important concepts in this project - and indeed, the functioning, scalability and sustainability of the project depends on the local volunteers being able to run the playschool on their own once the support staff leave. One of the most difficult problems to consider is local languages, and this is why we are now hoping to use an existing organisation to help us launch this idea - by using an organisation that already has communication channels and an understanding of the culture, we will be able to make informed communication with communities. In terms of the material we want to teach, there are a variety of options available to use, but the focus must be on working with local people to ensure that they have a strong context of the developmental and nutritional information that is specific to the materials that will be available in their area. Our idea at the moment is a system of lessons and workshops to teach the basics, and to have support staff work in the playschool for the first while to ensure that all volunteers are comfortable with the main ideas, and that they are able to deal with the running of the playschools. If you have any thoughts on effective teaching methods in these situations let us know!

Photo of Valeria Fernandez Cortina

Loved the idea!
I am looking forward to seeing how it develops!
I am all for something like this!

Photo of G. Quinque

Thanks Valeria! :D We are hoping to post an update very soon!

Photo of An Old Friend

Nice concept and one that embodies all developmental aspects.
Should you consider having success measures in place for the PlaySchool as well as the Support Staff to quantify the specific benefits being derived from the community?

Photo of G. Quinque

Hey Eleftheria,

Thanks for your feedback!
We thought about success measures quite a lot but decided not to include them here at this stage - it depends what parts of the project you are trying to measure, and also the nature of the project itself.

One of the key advantages of the project is that it can be set up in very isolated areas, with no existing infrastructure, and without the need for continued contact. In trying to implement performance metrics, we then also have to assume there is some channel through which these metrics can be collated, and findings rolled out in successive implementations. This might be the case in some areas, and if so it would definitely be a valuable addition, but it might not always be the case.

Another factor to consider is that while some success measures on subjects such as whether the community feels they are benefiting, or whether the volunteers were able to continue the project in the same general structure once running the school on their own, would be easy to measure, many of the success measures we were hoping to implement actually require resources beyond what is probably possible in the scope of this project. For example, to measure the success of the project of language development requires quite a deep understanding of very specialist areas of developmental language in child psychology, possibly beyond the scope of what is realistic to be taught in this project.

That said, being able to extract value from previous incarnations would certainly be beneficial, especially in the pilot stages - do you have any idea of how we might overcome these two main difficulties?

Photo of Guy Viner

Interesting stuff, G! Perhaps you might consider helping people better grasp how this idea could play out by describing some example scenarios which describe user journeys through some of the proposed activities you've outlined. Check this example: where a few simple scenarios were created in an attempt to explain the goodness on the idea in a human-centered way.

(You can update your post at any time by hitting the Update Entry button up there on the right.)

Photo of G. Quinque

Nice idea! I've written some in below;

Jenny works with an NGO in a West Africa. She and a few friends are trained in early development principles, nutrition for young children, how to develop toys and instruments out of local materials, and about the cultural landscape in the area. She and her friends meet with people from a small village community, and help train volunteers in the village about these concepts of development, nutrition, etc. and work with the community to set up a small area where the local volunteers will run a PlaySchool, which will work to support children and educate the community on these principles. Once the PlaySchool is operational and working well, Jenny and her friends move on to create a similar project in another village.

Tia is a new mother in a small village community in West Africa. While the community around her is close and supportive, there is no real structure to help her make the most of the people around her, while also allowing her to help with earning money or food. Tia has also never had any education about how to support the development of a newborn child. Once a PlaySchool is set up in the community, she is able to balance working and raising her children much more effectively by capitalising on the trusted human capital available in her community. The volunteers are also able to teach Tia about how best to support early development, and issues such as the best kinds of locally available food to feed her newborn.

Amara is a respected woman within her community, having lived there and supported people around her all her life. When workers from an NGO came to set up a PlaySchool, she volunteered, and was trained in activities the could best support early development, learning games, music and storytelling activities, etc. She is able to continue to support her community in a number of ways now, and can work to help parents understand some of these issues. In the running of the PlaySchool, she, and the other local volunteers that run the school, tell stories to the children, help them with little craft exercises and play music with them. They also play various learning games which work to support numeracy and vocabulary in the children, as well as physical games such as Tig and Football. Amara is also trained in how to create the resources needed for all these activities from locally available resources (as much as possible).

Photo of An Old Friend

Good job! I imagine pre-schoolers in rural areas being left behind as their mothers go 'hunting' for food or to dig in the gardens. They often have lots of time to themselves. I remember way back, such children had specific places in the village they could gather to play at specific time. Well, that was then!

Have you considered working through existing soccer, swimming, music or other sort of agencies that target training children? I see children of all walks of life participate mainly in soccer classes offered by some agencies in Uganda. May be it could be could to tap into existing platforms!

Photo of G. Quinque

Alex thank you for your interest in our idea!!! We have been researching a lot in order to find some existing agencies that would train children and teach them the basics of football and other sports. We believe that sports will inspire kids and teach them the ideas of healthy competition and team work. So after a small research we found about initiatives like Kampala's football festival ( ) and Nike the Chance which both offer opportunities for young athletes to show their skills and maybe find a contract in a professional team.

But all these initiatives have a slightly different focus from our approach which is football and sports for every child disregarding their skills that's why we proposed the one futbol project which donates indestructible balls to children in distressed areas. Do you have in mind any experience of any specific initiatives that focus on teaching the kids to love sports and music, as well as providing them with the necessary equipment? Using existing organisations and initiatives in this way will hopefully make this project much easier to realise!