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The Power of Play - Ensuring that Vulnerable Children Thrive

A conversation with Dr. Jane Aronson, founder of the World Wide Orphans Foundation, on the programs that this foundation puts into place to support the healthy development of young orphaned children around the world.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
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Written by

                     World Wide Orphans Foundation

Mission:  To help orphans become independent productive members of their own communities, cultures, and the world.  To this end WWO programs include orphans and children from the local areas.
WWO addresses children’s physical and mental health, their education, and their ability to plan and achieve what is fulfilling to them, in their own countries.

                       Highlights of the conversation:

What skills are crucial for children to build in the first 5 years of their lives?

                 The Ability To Discover And Be Curious
 To Answer Their Own Questions

What are some of the challenges facing parents in low income communities around the world?


Food Insecurity
Parents themselves may be malnourished, and have health problems.

Parents have no understanding of children's normal development and behavior, due to lack of education, so are more punitive and are quicker to abandon.

What is an example of a solution that supports children that is working well?

Working in St. Petersburg, Russia, in the 1980's Dr. Aronson met a Scandinavian psychologist who introduced her to the concept of the "toy library."  WWO has since developed programming using toy libraries to address the issue of play deprivation and early childhood developmental needs of orphans and at-risk children in the community. 
Programs are in place in orphanages and in local community centers.

Elderly caregivers have been trained in early childhood development principles using toys and accompanying reference cards which have been translated into Creole, Bulgarian and Vietnamese.  The cards cover the following developmental domains  - cognition, fine and gross motor, social emotional and communication.  Caregivers were also trained in child centered play techniques.
In 2011 WWO expanded this work and went on to train young adults in Haiti to work with vulnerable children in their communities.
Using toy libraries as a resource vulnerable children and their caregivers are able to strengthen attachments through play.  In some cases this work has enabled children to be reintegrated into families.

In older children a noticeble outcome is increased self esteem.

"A WWO Toy Library is packed full of colorful, wooden toys that teach children about color, spatial perception, fine motor coordination and language. Toy Libraries help children become active agents in their own environments, where they can safely explore their own intrinsic desire for play. They serve as a resource for caregivers to learn about child development and become an active participant in a child’s developmental trajectory."  
WWO Website

 Dr. Aronson - "My dream is to have a toy library in every health clinic, in local kiosks in markets, mobile toy libraries - toy libraries in communities around the world so that all children can benefit from play.  At every location there will be a trained professional toy librarian who can address the individual needs of each child and that child's caregiver."


How can we adapt learnings from this interactive model to the communities we will serve in this challenge?

In a time tapped world how can we encourage the importance of play for children, and interactive play between children and their parents?

What resources and tools can we provide caregivers so that they can learn about and directly effect their child's development?

In what ways can we encourage early and continued attachment between young children and their parents?

In what ways can we encourage interactions between parents and their young children that are joyful?

How can communities assist parents so that their chlldren can develop a sense of curiosity, discovery and the ability to answer their own questions?



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