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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.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Irene Blas

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

Photo of Wataru Kobayashi

I really like this idea!
I thought children are interested in natural source around their environment might be helpful for their future. knitting leaves are bit needed patience for children. However they get creative confidence if they will finish to make it completely. How are they fun for their work without patience ?

Photo of Uve Kindia

This is a really great idea. It provides learning in a different dimension, its fun and playable, with the right balance the idea shouldnt be stopped. Well done team

Photo of André Santos Correia

Are there any objects children could make that are easier? If children dont need much help building the object, you would save on human resources.

You could make a list of materials available locally in one particular place and objects that would make sense for those people.

Photo of Morgan Camu

Hi Marta and Dawn,
What a great idea; absolutely love your focus on merging local context and culture with play and creativity. It allows for a deeper and more shared understanding within the community - we're also trying to make the direct links between task and stakeholders. Would love any feedback you might be able to share:

Awesome job!

Photo of Sirasit L.


I think this is really an exciting idea and these activities not only enhance creativity and learning experience, but also possibly be an alternative source of income for low-income families.

Photo of Glynis Clacherty

I am working with a programme in rural Mozambique where basket weaving is a traditional craft. I love the basket games you have illustrated here. I would like to take the photos with me next time I go into the field and see if we can make some - would that be okay? I will keep in touch. Would you like to trial your ideas with us?

Photo of Marta Woszczyna

Hi Glynis,
That would be great! What materials do people in your community use? Would be interesting to hear more. Keep in touch!

Photo of Marta Woszczyna

Hi Glynis, we were wondering if you had a chance to try out some of the ideas? Would you be interested in collaboration on the project?

Photo of Glynis Clacherty

Baskets are made from Ilala palm for household use by older women (the use of plastic containers has affected the use and making of traditional baskets). You can find out more about one kind of basket here. CARE has a basket-making income generation project.

I need to consult with my colleagues on this as I know they will have ideas but
I would think that the way we could use the baskets is for women to weave them as toys for our playgroups. We could ask our Masungukate (these are home visitors - see my post in the 'Parenting Information' section of OpenIDEOideas 'Men can care - creating a toolkit of ideas appropriate for a deep rural context for engaging men in the care of young children'.

We could hold a design workshop with our home visitors maybe then ask the local basket weavers to make our woven "toys". We could also involve the children in very simple weaving - it would be a wonderful way of keeping the basket making tradition alive. What do you think?

Photo of Marta Woszczyna

We were also thinking the same thing you're talking about. Involving the 'makers group' that already make baskets or other items into making toys or teaching children the craft. Children could also use offcuts of some spare/waste material to create their own things, inspired by the crafts. It would be great if you could test run it. Our point is to encourage creativity instead of giving ready made ideas so we could prepare a toolkit which is to inspire the weavers and the children to come up with their own idea. As we understand, you try to reintroduce the crafting activities to women. So another idea could be to provide toolkit for the home visitors that they could leave with the women to show them what they could do with the craft you taught them - if we could empower the (grand)mothers that's great too. Maybe they can make things for their own (grand)children or households or even start making or selling things in their communities.
And yes, we agree about keeping tradition alive, it's very important but it's also nice to let it be alive and evolve, that's what spirit of play is trying to emphasise as well.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great stuff, guys! We're loving the focus on learning-by-doing and local materials and relevance. What age group were joining these workshops?

Tip: to activate links in your post, hit the Update Entry button up there on the right, then follow the instructions here:  

Photo of Marta Woszczyna

Hi Meena,
Thanks for your comment! The original workshops have been with a bit older children, but the group was very varied, we had some younger children joining too. The actual activities we posted here might be a bit too difficult for the very young children but we also continued the project in Sweden with kindergarten children (around 4-5 y.o.) in a bit adjusted form, so we know it can make it work for younger kids too and now the work will be focusing on this.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Do you have thoughts on how this idea might be iterated slightly with the 0-5 age group in mind? We think it's got great potential on our challenge topic. Feel free to update your post with any fine-tunings on our age-group focus :^)

Photo of An Old Friend

It is a really great idea. It provides learning in a fun manner especially when kids are playful and it balances work and play.

Photo of Marta Woszczyna

We are thinking on some ideas now, like "difficulty levels" for different age groups but also thought it might be good way to strengthen and support the peer cultures, which are already present in communities like the one we worked with.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Nice one, Marta. Feel free to update your post when you've decided on iterations. We're all about being agile with ideas here on OpenIDEO!

Photo of André Fernandes

Awesome idea! Maybe the concept of danish folk high school (non-formal education) could be a reference for a life education for children, combining their cultural aspects to inspire them develop and discover relevant skills for their communities, to take care of their own lives and take part at their communities. Comprising teaching, flexibly organised activities, storytelling, arts, music, dance, etc.

Photo of Andrew Yu

Good idea. Education should use local materials(leafs, rocks, woods, bottles...), learn local knowledge(culture, history, arts...), solve local problem(personal behavior, environment...) and do it by local people(teacher, parents, children themselves). We've designed educational toolkit for these four aspects, would like to share some of our designs for you, please go to to download our box DIY toolkit, have fun!