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Element of Play: Supporting vulnerable children to develop and thrive through play

Building on our experience with play programming in Haiti, Ethiopia, Bulgaria and Vietnam, we would like to develop ‘Element of Play’, a culturally adaptable model that uses play to support the psychosocial well-being and early development of vulnerable and marginalized infants and children and to promote school readiness, while also strengthening communities and providing learning and volunteering opportunities for unemployed youth and adults.

Photo of Wordlwide Orphans Foundation

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Supporting play in a community is an essential part of developing resilience, social connectedness and psychosocial well-being for all ages. Our idea - Element of Play – combines best practices from WWO’s years of experience in play programming in Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Haiti and Vietnam into a simple and yet profoundly impactful model of play and connection.
The model uses play to support the psychosocial well-being and early development of vulnerable and marginalized infants and children and to promote school readiness, while also strengthening communities and providing learning and volunteering opportunities for unemployed youth and adults.
The toy library is often the first element of play to be introduced into a community setting. As local volunteers receive further training, the toy library transforms into Element of Play: a community space for storytelling, music, art, dance, drama, sports and early learning. Community members, including parents, caregivers, retirees and youth volunteers, receive training on how each play element supports children’s development and resiliency. Community members are trained in the use of child development assessment tools to better understand and support young children’s individual needs. Playfulness is the unifying theme across countries.
The concept
Element of Play creates a protected space for children, youth and adults to gather, Provides capacity building for youth and adults to become volunteers, supports children’s well-being and development through play, and engages the community as a whole.
The model includes:
  • Toy Library: a protected space filled with educational toys and learning materials for children aged 0-7 years and their caregivers. Toys are accompanied by corresponding reference cards with information on five developmental domains (cognition, fine and gross motor, socio-emotional and communication) and examples of how to engage the child in play to support their learning and growth.
  • Music-in-Motion: a structured play opportunity for preschool age children to explore instruments, listen to music and dance
  • Art, drama and storytelling to help children learn about language, movement and self-expression.
  • Sports: an integral part of a healthy childhood and an opportunity to build strength, coordination and self-esteem, while also teaching teamwork and leadership skills. 
Building local capacity is an integral part of Element of Play, which includes multi-level training of toy librarians, youth and adult volunteers, parents and caregivers, as well as a ‘training of trainers’ curriculum to help spread a child-centered approach to children’s development throughout the community. Core training modules cover the following areas: child protection, child development, developmental stages, the importance of play and child-centered play techniques, developmental benefits of music and dance, creating safe spaces and routines for children, supporting resilience and well-being through play, problem solving and critical thinking. Certificates are awarded to all trainees who successfully complete training. Small stipends are provided for training, maintenance of skills and toy librarian positions. Partnerships with local organizations and government are pursued from the early stages to help ensure sustainability. 
Standardized tools are applied to assess progress in children’s development, caregiver knowledge of child development and children’s behavioral and psychosocial wellbeing – and findings feed back into project design and implementation.
Element of Play is adaptable to different cultural, economic, social and political contexts, in both emergency and development settings. In crisis situations, Element of Play can help affected communities tap into the enormous potential of play to help children and families cope with trauma and retrieve some sense of joy and normalcy. As a community-based model, it builds on existing local structures: it can be established in health centers, schools, community centers and associations, local businesses, refugee camps, or as mobile units to reach children in their homes, schools or in neighboring communities where applicable.
Element of Play addresses the issue of play deprivation and social isolation and helps to meet early childhood developmental needs of vulnerable and marginalized children, including orphans and children at risk of abandonment, children living in institutions, children from minority groups, children living in poverty, children with disabilities, and children living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, asylum seeking and refugee children, children in situations of conflict or humanitarian disaster, children in street situations and working children. By addressing the issue of lack of information/ understanding about children’s normal development and behavior among parents, caregivers and other community members, it also helps to promote family reintegration and prevent abandonment of children by families that are living in poverty or are facing other social risks.
Questions for the community:
How can we best support parents, caregivers and communities to encourage a child’s sense of curiosity, discovery and the ability to answer their own questions? 
What is the best way to package these resources and interventions together in a way that is transferable across cultures?

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

Element of play would benefit directly vulnerable and marginalized children 0-7 years of age – including children without parental care, children in institutions, children living in poverty, children with disabilities, children from minority groups, asylum seeking and refugee children, children in situations of conflict or humanitarian disaster, children living with or affected by HIV and AIDS, children in street situations and working children – and their caregivers, families and communities. We would initially target vulnerable and marginalized children in Yeka Sub City in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where WWO has an established presence and implementation capacity and where individual components of the model are already in place. However, the model is global in scope. The idea is to create an interactive and dynamic community-based model that can be adapted to serve vulnerable and marginalized children and communities in different cultural, economic, social and political contexts.

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

Building on WWO’s experience with play programming in Haiti, Ethiopia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, we would: 1) Convene a meeting with local communities and child service providers in Yeka Sub City (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) to discuss our intentions and areas of interest and to seek their inputs and support. 2) Conduct a needs assessment in the community (assess e.g. how much time children spend playing; who they play with; where do they play; what is the level of understanding of child development among parents and caregivers; what are the actors working with children/ providing services for children in the area; what type of services are provided; etc) in order to identify needs, potential partners and specific locations/ structures for implementation of the project. We have had success rolling out toy libraries and/or other components of ‘Element of Play’ in the communities served by our organization and are confident that we will be able to successfully identify partners, volunteers and suitable community/physical structures for the project. 3) Conduct a 3 day Play Workshop with pre-identified volunteers, caregivers, trainers and partners and solicit feedback from participants. The purpose of the workshop would be to connect with the local community and to gauge their interests, the potential benefits of the project and to gather their inputs in order to inform project design and implementation.

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

We would need help with: - Design: new and creative ideas on how to package Element of Play, including affordability, adaptability, quality, and format of the model - Ideas of different contexts and communities whose needs could be served by Element of Play

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

  • Yes. I am ready and interested in testing this idea and making it real in my community.


Join the conversation:

Photo of An Old Friend

Hi WOF! Our team in are interested in collaborating with you to prototype and possibly implement your model here in Uganda. Bettina, Anne-Laure and myself believe these two ideas complement each other. We are interested in hearing your take on this proposed collaboration!

Thanks, Alex!

Photo of Wordlwide Orphans Foundation

Thanks, Alex! We'd be interested in hearing more about your organization and your ideas for collaboration. Could you say in a few words what the main components of of your idea are? Are you already working in the community? How do you see us fitting in with your project?

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