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THE SPIRIT OF PLAY - a playful guide to understanding with craft and local materials

Our idea is about alternative ways to access knowledge and life skills though play and craft. Instead providing children with ready made things, is to give them a guide for self learning. By using local materials for craft activities, children can learn to create daily objects from tools to toys, or even big structures, instead of just making another toy. The guide takes a humanistic approach, rather than merely applying universal ways of education that might not always be appropriate for local situations. Consider peer culture plays an important role for children from low-income communities, the guide will be for everyone (children and adult)in basic and advanced levels, together with supplement games and simple tools.

Photo of Dawn, Hang Yue Wong

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What is The Spirit of Play? 

The Spirit of Play provides a guide to craft activities. We have started this project last year during five week study trip. We have been doing research, workshops and testing the idea in Narikuravara Community in Puducherry, South India. We cooperated with local NGO and their volunteers and noticed that educational programme they provide isn’t always suitable for the local context and doesn’t stimulate learning among children.
The purpose of the spirit of play are:
    •    encouraging creativity by craft
    •    facilitating children’s curiosity and free will
    •    cultivating children’s interest of self learning and discovery 
    •    empowering children, promoting social well being

How we came up with this idea?

During our workshops with children we noticed that they become more engaged in physical participatory activities rather than during only one way lessons (when they have to only listen to the teacher-volunteer). They enjoyed learning by doing, learned much faster and this kind of activity also influenced the bonding and general morale among the group. So we decided to give the volunteers a creative framework for the activities, a toolkit that provides the base and can be reused, hacked or interpreted according to certain context and its requirements. By practically engaging children, the activities provide a wider choice of what children (and adults) could do based on locally available resources.

The guide can be used as an alternative or an additional learning activity to an existing educational programme. This can also be used as a way for NGOs to open discussions about certain issues they would like to work on (e.g. trash, public space, ownership, vocational skill practice), or problems, they are dealing with (e.g. post tsunami traumas).

Variations - unlimited form of the Spirit of Play

The suggestion guide is a basic form, the tool can be adjusted to specific situation and available resources. In our testing we used coconut leaves and rubber strips in the example, materials which were easily available for the community we worked with. 

The character of the Spirit of Play represents a playful way to understanding. It can be transformed into different forms. Even the form itself could suggest different applications, the core of the spirit of play is the process of creating, exploration, and communication. It provides storytelling element, engages children, gives them opportunity to create their own versions of it and makes learning about given issues more understandable and fun.

There is thousand more forms that the children can explore!

So, why locally available materials? 

It might be expensive for low-income families to purchase books, stationery and toys… Even if there is a NGO working with a community they often spend their budget on bigger necessities like food or providing water sources. Reusing scrap materials and natural resource (e.g. plants, soils) has much lower cost and is better for the environment. 

Besides, using local materials provide an opportunity for children to explore and understand their living environment and build on local heritage. It provides a kind of grounding, basis to the activities and doesn’t take them out of context.

And, why open-ended craft and play activities?

Sri Aurobindo, Indian philosopher and religious activist, said, “The first principle of teaching is that nothing can be taught”. The idea is more focused on inspiring and empowering children, so they can apply the craft skills to create what they really need from time to time in their living situation, and expand the life skills from self learning and curiosity. Transferable skills are important, especially if it can be reused in the future. What we also noticed in our research is that children’s creativity can inspire adults and this can bring benefits for the whole communities.

Open-ended play gives children wider choice of things that can be made and this plays important role for them from their own perspective. Being able to make their own things and interpret the given instructions during the learning situation puts them on the same level with teacher and blurs the boundaries present in traditional educational context.


The guide can be distributed in different ways (we are still exploring) it can be in a form of toolkit for the NGOs, technical workshops that can be arranged and offered by NGOs/ government/ local community supportive group. It could also be possible to promote the craft guide through media which would reach the children directly, for instance, poster in bus stop, short program in a TV channel, printed graphic on plastic bags/ food package etc.

Development of the guide/ tool kit

The guide for our focus group was developed specially for weaving, which is not entirely fit for 0-5yrs age group. Moreover, we noticed how peer culture influences young children perceive their identity in the community, we believe a guide for everyone (both children and adults) could make a more wholes tic impact.

Basically, the guide provide different levels of craft suggestions, for the basic level, it'll be focus on more random and simple methods, from cutting, pasting to coloring; while for the advanced level, the method will be more structural, for example, weaving. The guide will also provide supplementary game parts, include how to find materials, how to get inspiration, and how to apply the idea.

check out our developmental process of the Spirit of Play

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

The idea was developed based on the specific context, but we believe this as an universal creative tool for other similar communities. We will be referring to our experience in India, as this is context known to us but would like to hear from people from other countries. Initially we worked with children above 5 years old, but we already tested some ideas with children around 3-4 years old in an adjusted form.

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

First we will develop ideas for the guide, based on our experiences and testing. Then we would like to hear from potential cooperators, find out your opinions how the guide could work in your community, is it possible to involve NGOs or reach the users directly. Next would be of course further testing, possibly done in cooperation with other people.

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

We would also like to hear from the other users, who possibly work closely with low-income communities, what kind of issues are important for you, what kind of craft activities would be relevant for the children and how to implement the idea most effectively? From the scenario we know, the NGO was working very closely with the community, so we made something for them, but maybe this is not the case overall and it would be better to reach the children directly? We would like to hear from you!

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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Cherish the Children 's Materials its land and learn and play with Them Is To assess it

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