The LEGO Foundation commits to promote the importance of learning through play in the developing world through the BRAC Play Lab Project in Bangladesh, Uganda and Tanzania. The BRAC Play Lab Project is a partnership between LEGO Foundation, BRAC International in Uganda and Tanzania, and BRAC USA and the Centre for Play (the Centre) at BRAC Universitys Institute of Educational Development (IED) in Bangladesh. The Project seeks to bridge the knowledge and resource gap and inform the discourse on play and its potential role in the development agenda.
Through guided-play curricula, training and capacity-building for staff, monitoring and evaluation, and advocacy for the importance of play in early childhood development, the Centre will support strategies for unlocking childrens potential and supporting their holistic development. The Centre will base its approach on the belief that play has an impact essential for social, emotional and cognitive development.
The Project will establish educational programming for children aged three to five and for their parents and caregivers, incorporating elements of social and emotional learning (SEL) and identity awareness. The Centre for Play adopts an ecosystem approach to program design and development to ensure that the most vulnerable children and families have increased access to quality early childhood development services and education. The three-year commitment will include the following elements:
The Play Consortium: BRAC and the LEGO Foundation will assemble a global and national network of play-based experts, who will collate international best practices on learning through play, adapt and develop play-based curriculum and materials, build staff capacity and advocate for childrens rights to play. This consortium will work to influence governments and other key actors in Bangladesh, Uganda, Tanzania and elsewhere to advocate for the value of learning through play.
Play Labs: The Project will pilot early childhood programs in all three countries and will create models for national and regional programs in the future. The Project will also seek to create models and a knowledge hub for best practice around learning through play in the developing world. Specifically, 240 pilot Play Labs will be created for children aged three to five in Bangladesh, Tanzania and Uganda (80 in each country). These pilots will lay the foundation for later scaling. The Play Labs will introduce playful learning into childrens lives, parent-child interactions, homes and communities. 7,200 children will participate in the Play Labs, while 480 adolescent girls, known as Play Leaders, will be trained as para-professional facilitators. By training adolescent girls as para-professionals who can staff these play centres, there is an opportunity to build a workforce development loop that supports children throughout childhood and connects them to economic opportunity as young adults. Additionally, 7,200 parents will participate in parenting sessions on the value of learning through play. The goal of the Play Labs is to provide quality experiences for children, while changing mindsets and behaviors of parents, Play Leaders and community leaders regarding learning through play.
Design of Play Spaces and Development of Play Materials: Safe play spaces will be designed for multiple contexts, and low cost materials will be developed at the Centre for Play for children from birth to ten years old. The design will allow stakeholders to participate in planning and creating play environments in homes and community hubs that otherwise lack play spaces. The goal is to develop materials that are environmentally sustainable and low-cost, to ensure wider access to various communities. The community will also be engaged in the development of play materials using locally-sourced material, as this can provide a sustainable source for providing materials to the Play Labs and other play spaces in the community.
Research: The Initiative will be monitored, evaluated and researched by the Centre, which will conduct research on: (1) Developing play environment assessment tools; (2) Evaluation of Play Lab models on childrens development; (3) Mechanisms of monitoring and quality assurance of Play Labs; and age-appropriate effectiveness of play materials. The Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University will also provide support to the research, the goal of which is to establish an evidence-based proof of concept of a scalable Play Lab model based on low-cost and high impact interventions.
Potential challenges in this project include bringing about a shift in the way play is perceived by parents, officials and other stakeholders and ensuring a sustainable change in the way children learn during their early years. The Centre for Play at IED, BRACU will spearhead the formation of the Play Consortium, the design of play spaces and development of play materials and the research, as well as pilot the Play Labs in Bangladesh. BRAC International will pilot the Play Labs in Uganda and Tanzania, technically supported by the Centre for Play and BRAC USA will aid in coordinating this project.
This project is a three-year project, running from September 2015 to August 2018. The implementation steps of this project are provided below.
The Play Consortium:
- Three-day workshop on designing the Play Consortium (Y1Q4).
- The Play Consortium established through the workshop, including an online space (Y1Q4).
- Seminars organized for parents and professionals (Y1Q4 Y3Q4).
- Training sessions for parents and professionals (Y1Q4 Y3Q4)
- Print, media and online advocacy materials produced (Y1Q4 Y3Q4)
- The Consortium to organize a national day of play in Bangladesh (Y3Q4).
There will be two types of Play Labs Model I, which is for three to four year olds and Model II, which is for four to five year olds. Each Play Lab will have two adolescent Play Leaders.
Play Labs in Bangladesh:
- Spaces for the 40 Plays Labs of Model I type designed and acquired (Y1Q1).
- One-day strategic planning meeting for the running of these 40 Play Labs. (Y1Q1)
- A four-day workshop on play-based curriculum for the curriculum designers of the Play Lab. (Y1Q1)
- Field staff trained on child development for four days. (Y1Q2)
- Trainers trained for 3 days on play-based curriculum of the Play Labs (Y1Q2)
- Play Leaders trained on play-based pedagogy and curriculum (Y1Q2).
- Play Leaders receive monthly refreshers for the duration of the project.
- Before launch, parent and community orientation and workshop on play-based learning (Y1Q2).
- The Play Labs launched (from Y1Q3).
- Spaces for 40 more Play Labs designed and acquired (Y2Q1).
- One day strategic planning conducted for the running of 80 Play Labs. (Y2Q1)
- A four-day workshop on designing play-based curriculum for Model II conducted. (Y2Q1)
- New field staff trained on child development for four days (Y2Q2).
- Trainers trained for 3 days on curriculum for the Play Labs (Y2Q2).
- Play Leaders trained on play-based pedagogy and curriculum of both Models for 5 days (Y2Q2).
- Play Leaders receive monthly refreshers for the duration of the project.
- Before launch, parent and community orientation and workshop on play-based learning (Y2Q2).
- Exposure visits to notable play centres to learn about play-based learning and best practices to aid in ongoing curriculum and material development for the Play Labs. (Y2Q1-Y2Q2 and Y3Q1-Y3Q2).
- The New Plays Labs will be launched from Y2Q3, 80 Play Labs running from this point.
Play Labs in Uganda and Tanzania:
- The cycle for establishing Play Labs in Uganda and Tanzania similar to Bangladesh model above. However, the curriculum designed in Bangladesh for Model I will be adapted to the Ugandan and Tanzanian context over a period of 10 days (Y1Q1-Y1Q2), before trainings.
- Similarly, the curriculum designed in Bangladesh for Model II will be adapted to the Ugandan and Tanzanian context over a period of 10 days (Y2Q1 Y2Q2).
- From Y1Q3, 80 Play Labs will be launched in Uganda and Tanzania. From Y2Q3, 80 more Play Labs will be launched, for a total of 160 Play Labs will be running.
Design of Play Spaces, Development of Play Materials and relevant capacity building:
- A five-day workshop on designing Play Spaces (outdoor and indoor) for Children birth to ten (Y1Q4).
- A five-day international training on develop age-appropriate safe play spaces (both outdoor and indoor) for children aged from birth to 10 (Y2Q2-Y2Q3).
- Five-day workshop on development of age-appropriate safe, play materials (both outdoor and indoor) for children from birth to three years old, a three-day workshop on developing materials for children from three to five years old and another three-day workshop on developing materials for children from six to ten years old will be conducted for professionals at the Centre for Play. (Y1Q3 Y1Q4).
- Materials created through this workshop tested in the field and in Play Labs, reviewed and finalized. (Y1Q3-Y1Q4).
- An international exposure visit to see manufacturers who create safe play materials (Y1Q2-Y1Q3).
- A five-day international training on designing age-appropriate play materials (both outdoor and indoor) for children from birth to ten years old. (Y1Q2-Y1Q3).
- Play materials will produced by the Centre for Play from Y1Q3 to Y3Q2.
- Studies conducted to explore the impact of the Play Labs in Bangladesh at different stages (Y1Q2, a pre-study and Y3Q3-Y3Q4, a post-study).
- The effectiveness of the Play Labs on social and emotional learning (SEL) and identity awareness studied at different stages (Y2Q2 & Y3Q3-Y3Q4).
- A play environment assessment tool developed for context of early childhood development in Bangladesh (Y2Q1 Y2Q4).
- The effectiveness of play materials for different age groups in the Project studied (Y1Q4 Y3Q3).
The early years are the critical window for investing in childrens development and lifelong well-being. The World Health Organization, the World Bank and many others confirm that children who participate in holistic, quality programs in the early years are more successful in school, more competent socially and emotionally, and show improved learning outcomes, including literacy, numeracy and cognitive skills. As the importance of early learning gains support, there is a growing need to ensure that practice in the sector reflects this emphasis on whole child development and the skills and capacities children need to thrive in school and in life. These include physical, social, emotional, cognitive and creative skills.
Learning through play develops all of these skills. Evidence continues to emerge linking play to the development of executive functions, resiliency, creativity, problem-solving, social skills and emotional well-being. The data are growing in support of the long-known belief that play benefits children and helps provide a strong foundation for learning and for life, while a lack of play has negative consequences on social and emotional development. In developing countries, especially in the poorest communities, children particularly need to develop critical skills, such as problem-solving and creativity that help them overcome challenges and adversity throughout their lives and equip them to tackle obstacles within their communities.
However, according to UNICEF, traditional views of academic achievement keep families and educators from appreciating play as an optimal medium for learning. UNICEF asserts that limited resources, a lack of capacity in play-based pedagogy and overcrowding in early learning centres limit childrens play opportunities. Data from UNICEFs Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicate that in low- and middle-income countries, a majority of children under five do not have access to play materials. In spite of the evidence, learning through play is not yet reflected in mainstream practice in developing countries.
In three such countries, BRAC and LEGO Foundation have identified a combination of need and opportunity to effect systemic changes in approaches to early learning. In Bangladesh, national education policy reflects the importance of early learning, but real-life application in both rural and urban areas stress rote memorization. BRACs leadership in Bangladesh creates an opportunity for National change and for regional influence. In Uganda and Tanzania, the majority of children do not have access to early childhood education. In these countries, there is a need to ensure that children have access to pre-schools or alternative institutions that provide space and materials for learning through play.
Quality early childhood programs with play at their core (Play Labs) can provide models for the sector. In addition, there is an opportunity to have a positive impact on opportunities for older youth. At that end of the age span of childhood, adolescents are aging out of school and services without employment opportunities. All three of the identified countries have rising youth demographics. Engagement can strengthen local economies, while neglect can worsen unemployment and violence. The LEGO Foundation and BRAC together see an opportunity to advance the importance of learning through play, improve access and quality in early childhood in these countries and to influence mainstream practice in the developing world.