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It takes a village...connecting mothers and others via toy libraries

It takes a village to raise a child. This African proverb says it all: a child's upbringing belongs to the community. Makes sense, but how to make this work in poor communities where parents and health caregivers are not empowered on early learning, health, nurturing? In disadvantaged communities, mothers' and health caregivers' first priority is for their infants to survive, not so much to thrive. They have limited knowledge on early childhood development, and no access to play stuff for early child education. Providing a space for them to connect and exchange, receive parenting information while offering them access to creative play materials for their infants and toddlers combines three missions of this challenge.

Photo of Susanne van Lieshout
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How will it work?
The toy libraries will contain simple, low-tech play materials that develop children's cognitive, physical and social skills such as stacking towers, wood puzzles, simple music instruments,soft cubes, building blocks, hand puppets, dolls, teddy bears,etc. Sturdy, safe, washable toys, made from locally available materials by local artisans,  that can easily be repaired and copied.

1. Toy libraries based in hospitals or community centres - libraries are run by staff
2. Mobile toy libraries that travel from village to village - libraries based on an entrepreneur model.
Toy libraries provide two types of services: play sessions or lending out toys (or both). The  'librarians' are trained in early child development, with integrating knowledge on health, nutrition & nurturing. During library opening hours, theywill provide information sessions.
Why do you think it might succeed?
It will work because it combines a real product (toys) with a service (information). In my experience just bringing people together to talk or train them is not motivating for people. For a nominal fee, parents or caregivers have access to entertaining and educational toys, and useful information as an 'embedded service;.

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

Infants and toddlers, firstly, and their care givers - mothers, fathers, foster parents, grand parents, as well as health workers, nurses, midwifes, traditional birth attendants, day care staff etc. They are based in disadvantaged communities in Myanmar, this country that has been 'closed-up' for many years and is now opening up and welcoming a fresh breathe of air.

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

Within my network I have my eyes on partners based in Myanmar already. My approach would be participatory and community-based. First 3 things to do are: 1. Get together mothers, fathers, health care workers and other caregivers and connect them to carpenters and tailors to design and produce the toys. 2. Jointly discuss and agree on toy library operation mode: fee structure, lending time etc 3. Organize training on integrated early education (nurturing, nutrition, health, for the librarians, with simple communication supports (leaflets, posters)

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

Toy design help would be great, as we need to train carpenters and tailors to make the toys. Advice on toy safety, proper paints etc. Experiences on library operation modes, fee structures also very welcome. Toy libraries are common and popular in developing countries, but there must be experience with community-based libraries in developing countries as well.

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 Charlotte Norris

Hi Susanne I really like the idea of using toys to learn. Have you thought about recylcing old toys and turning them into new toys? Or starting a project where you can collect donations from people with unwanted toys and passing them onto these toy libraries.

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