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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.

Scenarios:
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.

24 comments

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Photo of Charlotte Norris
Team

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.

Photo of Tino Elgner
Team

Hi Suzanne, great idea. As you mentioned that there is a difference between "surviving " and "striving" maybe you could also think about including an aspect that will help with the physical well-being of the children. An example, would be a good meal that will be part of the visit of the library. Or as parents will be accompanying the children, maybe you can think about offering specific feedback on nutrition. I think one of the main reasons for blindness in children in Africa is the lack of vitamin A. Thus, while the children are playing, parents could learn about what local foods will provide the best mix of nutrients for the physical well-being of the children. Although this might go beyond the scope of the initial idea, I hope it is helpful :)

Photo of Susanne van Lieshout
Team

Tino, thanks for thinking with us, and you are very right. In fact, that is the ideas, the 'librarian' will be trained in parenting skills and provide information about nutrition, hygiene etc. We maybe working with Hands to Hearts (see www.handtohearts.org) who do just that: empowering women and caregivers with the skills to nurture their children, through a train-the-trainer approach. This is how our Toy Library ideas links to 3 mission of this challenge: parenting skills, creativity and play and networking. Thanks!

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Susanne, this is very interesting to hear. What are your thoughts about how your idea could interface with what Hand to Hearts is doing? Are you thinking of partnering with programs that they have operating in Cambodia? Looking forward to learning more about the evolution of your idea!

Photo of Susanne van Lieshout
Team

Dear Chioma, yes, I think Hand to Hearts' curriculum is just what we need. We had a Skype last week - also for another idea launched by Dr Aung Hein from VSO Myanmar. Check his idea. If possible we could combine the Hands to Heart training for both these projects. Are you very familiar with HHI's curriculum?

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Susanne,

I've just been reviewing some examples of collaboration in the challenge that I thought were exciting and came back to this post. Have you been in touch with Dr Aung since his idea moved into Refinement?

Cheers,
Chioma

Photo of An Old Friend
Team

Hi Susanne, I am glad the concept of promoting community wide engagement in child care is coming out greatly in this challenge. Have you checked out SECURED https://openideo.com/challenge/zero-to-five/ideas/our-village-raising-our-children which was born out of it takes a village to raise a child?

Photo of Yavni Bar-Yam
Team

Hi Susanne, nice thinking.

I worked at a science center in South Africa for a time, and one of their programs, located in a township, is a toy library. Not much information on their webpage, but there is some: http://www.osizweni.org.za/programmes.aspx?mediaId=1206

Also, in Cambridge, MA most playgrounds have lots of toys (toy trucks, mini cars, sandbox toys, etc) that have been (intentionally?) left there by people in the neighborhood over time, and have become communal.

Photo of Susanne van Lieshout
Team

Cool, thanks for the share. Yes, in my exprience there will be lots of donations; which is nice and may come in handy: Although the focus will remain on locally produced toys, we could think of a combination of donated and locally fabricated toys: Cheers Susanne

Photo of Yavni Bar-Yam
Team

Oh, I wasn't suggesting taking donations from outside. My point about Cambridge, MA was simply to point to one case where something like informal "toy libraries" have emerged organically in communities.

Photo of wekesa zab
Team

Halo Susanne . this sounds exciting ..maybe we can build an experience around this to give it some wow effect -
https://openideo.com/challenge/zero-to-five/ideas/dream-box-speak-visualize-share-build-together

This is an idea that is still very rough on the edges .. Was hoping to create an inspiring moment for both parents and kids .. Hihi

Photo of wekesa zab
Team

http://techcrunch.com/2014/11/15/dynepod-kickstarter/?ncid=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29

This article from techcrunch -
"Dynepic’s mission now is to build what Watrydubs the Internet of Toys (or IoToys). Aka an open platform allowing toys and various digital cloud services to be linked together viathe power of open APIs. The emphasis for Dynepic and its IoToys grand plan is squarely on educational play — enabling learning of technology and engineering type skills through kids using physical toys linked to a tablet-based programming interface that lets them configure their function, and even pull content down from the web to extent their play."

Photo of Julian Ingabire Kayibanda
Team

I totally love the mobile toy library and would love to learn more about its implementation. How are you going to monitor and evaluate the lending system? Being able to tell that they are not just being kept at home and not used? Are the care givers going to be testing the kids in some sort ? To gauge their cognitive devpt? I Think it's a great idea if the stakeholders are educated on its importance so they get involved in utilizing the mob library.

Photo of Susanne van Lieshout
Team

Dear Julian, thanks for your encouragement. The idea is that the operation mode of the toy libraries (how to lend out toys, for how long, what to do when damage etc) will be decided jointly with its users (parents, caregivers). People in Myanmar are using book libraries so they are used to the lending idea, but not for toys.

I am going to visit some small wooden toy 'factories' this week to see what's available.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Suzanne.
I love the idea of toy libraries to combine play and learning for children, and their caregivers as well. During the research phase I posted about the work of the World Wide Orphans Foundation. They have utilized toy libraries as a tool in their work promoting developmental growth of orphans and supporting relationships with caregivers. They have expanded this work into the local communities as well. As you hope to do they have trained local "librarians" in child development. They have developed tool kits in several languages for this purpose. See this research post to learn more.
https://openideo.com/challenge/zero-to-five/research/ensuring-that-orphans-worldwide-thrive-the-world-wide-orphan-foundation

As you are interested in mobile units (which I think is a great idea!) you might be interested in this post as well. It highlights a "mobile school" that has been developed for use in the developing world, as an educational and empowering tool for street children. It is awesome!
https://openideo.com/challenge/zero-to-five/research/a-mobile-discovery-center

Excited to see what develops in Myanmar!

Photo of Susanne van Lieshout
Team

Excellent, the article mentions "elderly caregivers' or "grannies; retired women from the local communities who spend four hours a day in the residential care facility, playing and nurturing an individual child." That is an interesting option. I suppose grand fathers too! Thanks for the tip. I will get in touch with WWO.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Great Susanne! I emailed Dr. Jane Aronson/ WWO , to let her know you will reach out! info@www.org
Another exciting thing WWO is doing is training youth, employing them, in Haiti to do the Toy Library work with Haitian orphans - so it is both sides of the age spectrum!
Excited to see what this can lead to!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Heard back from Jane Aronson. She wrote that she has connections in Myanmar!

Photo of Claire Gutermuth
Team

You could even extend this idea to make some sort of mobile/popup playground or playhouse or play classroom! Kids get really excited about "play places" in general and I bet a skilled carpenter could create structures that would be relatively easy to assemble and take apart (there are all kinds of cool designs out there!) A volunteer could bring and assemble the set in a community place and hand out educational materials/be a resource for parents as their children play. If it were framed as a sort of event (i.e. set up for 4 hours twice a month) then it could serve as a community builder for parents to come together as well.

Photo of Susanne van Lieshout
Team

Yes Claire, you are right. There are very few places where children can play safely with other kids in poor communities. I'm pretty sure we could find volunteers too. But it has to be made sustainable and owned by the community. I therefore like to test more entrepreneurial ways to make toys available, where the 'toy librarian' makes an income and reaches out to several communities at the same time. Thanks for thinking with us.

Photo of Amy Walter
Team

Hi Susanne,
Toy libraries have tremendous potential for supporting children’s development. Not only do children delight in and learn through play, but safe attractive toys could also serve as a strong draw for families to participate in information sessions. When talking to families and carpenters/tailors about toy design, I would keep in mind what is developmentally appropriate for different stages. For instance, infants might benefit most from rattles or soft balls. Toddlers would benefit from nesting toys, simple puzzles, and soft blocks. At these stages, children explore through their senses (including with their mouths), so you are wise to focus on safety and ease of cleaning. As children grow older, imaginative play takes on increasing importance. Masks, puppets, toy animals, and play cooking utensils will enable children to act out scenes from everyday life and their imaginations. Older children also engage in more sophisticated block play. Children of all ages will enjoy musical instruments appropriate for their level of dexterity.
The decision of whether the library should be mobile or not would likely depend on the area it serves. I would think a mobile library would be more appropriate for a densely populated area. Given the difficulty of reaching more remote areas, they might be better served by creating their own toys from locally available materials and training community members.
CONAFE, the principal government agency in Mexico providing education to remote rural areas, has been implementing an early childhood program utilizing community volunteers for quite some time. Here’s a link that might prove instructive: http://www.conafe.gob.mx/educacionincial/Paginas/default.aspx.
Best of luck with this idea. I look forward to seeing how it develops!
Amy

Photo of Susanne van Lieshout
Team

Dear Amy, thanks so much for your insight into different toys for different developmental stages. I can imagine guiding parents, caregivers etc. by giving them of this 'theory' to help decide jointly. Every-day objects will be fun too, and can be easily adapted to existing contexts. It's great to have you thinking with us; this is how we can combine ideas and research from the West with local thoughts and concepts. Will definitely check out the Conafe link. Cheers!

Photo of Chioma Ume
Team

Hi Suzanne! I love that you've identified some concrete things that you can do early on to flesh out this idea. Meena's point about the concept of a library is a good one too. You might be interested to see another idea with a different take on libraries: https://openideo.com/challenge/zero-to-five/ideas/stimulating-a-culture-of-literacy-by-creating-commercial-libraries. It might also be interesting for you to begin speaking with other early childhood services providers in the community - to get some insights into how people are using their services and how a toy library might be incorporated into existing practices. Excited to see this idea develop!

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Nice thinking on applying the sharing economy to Burma, Susanne. Would be interesting to know if other kinds of borrowing initiatives exist there (like book libraries, etc) and explore whether the conveying the basic concept of a library will need to be part of this initiative as well. We like the way you propose a participatory session to decide the library operation modes. It could be great to tap your network in Burma to help with some initial exploration on this so that you can flesh out your proposal here further. (You can update your post at any time by hitting the Update Entry button up there on the right) Looking forward to seeing this idea grow!