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A sustainable playgroup model transforming childhoods & uplifting communities, giving every child the opportunity to play, learn & thrive.

Learn To Play

location_on Botswana
Learn to Play harnesses the power of play to provide high-quality and culturally-relevant early childhood education. We train and equip motivated Mamapreneurs to lead playgroups in their communities. Easily scalable & replicable in a variety of contexts, our model leads to improved school readiness & holistic wellbeing, enabling every child to unlock their potential.
We need to transform the way the world sees, cares for and engages with young children. For us, this is more than a job; we are pioneering programmes that create communities of opportunity.

Priyanka Handa Ram, Founder

Overview

HundrED shortlisted this innovation

HundrED has shortlisted this innovation to one of its innovation collections. The information on this page has been checked by HundrED.
Key figures

Innovation Overview

1 - 6
Age Group
615
Children/Users
3
Countries
2017
Established
Not-for-profit
Organisation
330
Views
Updated on October 21st, 2020
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about the innovation

Learn To Play

What we do?

Learn To Play, or Ithute Go Tshameka in Setswana, enables mothers in vulnerable communities to establish child-centred, developmentally-appropriate, and culturally-relevant playgroups. We operate in disadvantaged communities where poverty is high and most children don’t have any exposure to early childhood education.

Our programme utilises an untapped resource as the key change-agent: Mothers. In each community 6 marginalised Mamapreneurs are empowered to improve their children’s education and development using recyclable and reusable materials as well as natural materials from their local environment.

This means that the resources and people-power are readily available and the Playgroup can be delivered, scaled and sustained at low-cost.

Each community receives a ‘Playgroup in a Box’, containing everything that a team of mamapreneurs needs to run their own playgroup: a daily curriculum; a low-cost resource development guide; stories, charts and other learning tools - which are all available in both English and Setswana.

Through our unique and scalable model (which includes a play and learn curriculum, our trademarked and specialised Rainbow Play training, our community conservation interventions, and the specially-designed ‘playgroup in a box’), communities build the skills and resources they need to uplift the children of their community, establishing a bridge between their community life and formal education.

How do we do it?

#UnlockingPotential

1. We invest early, to give every child a fair chance in life from the start.

2. We invest equitably, because the children with the least, benefit the most.

3. We invest smartly – not only in education, but also in health, nutrition & protection as they all work together to promote healthy brain development.

#KeyPhilosophies

1. Learning Through Play

2. Uplifting Women’s Opportunities 

3.High-impact, low-cost

#PurposefulPlay

More than 200 million children under the age of 5 fail to reach their potential in cognitive development. Poverty, poor health and nutrition, as well as the lack of early stimulation holds these children back. Quality early childhood interventions for children under five should not be a luxury. 

#PlayLearnGrow

Our growth plans are developed with the communities we serve, as well as in our strategic plan for impact, scalability and sustainability. Over the past year of play, we've seen how education and health are intrinsically linked. We've learned how important a dedicated, child-centered play area is. We have learned how working in strong partnerships can do more for a community than any one single organization.

In the next 12 months, we will strengthen our services within our current 4 communities. We have recently been allocated a plot of land by the village leadership where we are building our own playgroup structure, and our partners, Cheetah Conservation Botswana, are building a similar playgroup structure in one of our other community locations. Further, we will now be providing healthy and nutritious snacks for each child in our playgroup programmes and we are exploring models for long-term engagement of our Mamapreneurs. 

We strongly believe in nurturing existing and cultivating more community partnerships within Botswana. For example, we've been proud to work with Cheetah Conservation to provide holistic support to communities in the Ghanzi district. We look forward to doing more of this in 2020 with Botho University as we jointly uplift one more community through play, extending our direct impact to 5 communities, 35 women and 360 children & families.

We have also been approached by other community organisations, not-for-profits and private sector companies to partner and provide our expertise in sustainable early childhood programmes in areas where they work and will be launching new playgroups in more communities across Botswana next year. We continue to provide trainings on our unique approach to educators, schools and parents across the country - demonstrating how scalable and easy-to-implement our frameworks and tools are. 

Learn To Play COVID-19 Response

Botswana faced several weeks of lockdown and for our communities on the margins, that has meant desperate threats into isolation and toxic stress. Despite the easing of lockdowns, the current restrictions still mean we have to temporarily close all playgroups across the country.

Health organisations worldwide are emphasizing on the importance of focusing wellbeing and wellness during the pandemic. We believe that it is imperative to create opportunities for children to manage emotions, express their concerns, have a routine, feel safe as well as relax and play. Therefore, instead of bringing the child to play, we brought play to the child. 

Steps we are taking as an organisation:

1. Mental health support through wellbeing and mindfulness trainings for our staff

2. Individualised play and learn packs for every child. We marketed a "Buy One, Get One" play-at-home kit - made out of reusable materials - for more economically advantaged families to support our Learn to Play children. A win-win for both!

3. Home-visits for children who cannot attend playgroups

4. Parenting support interventions including a mobile mentoring programme

5. Training and professional development for educators and facilitators

6. Communication and coordination with partners, stakeholders and relevant government authorities

7. We are preparing for a safe and happy reopening focusing on safety, wellbeing and holistic child development from August as per government guidelines.

Many of our COVID-19 responses are highlighted below! 

While at-risk children, including Learn To Play beneficiaries, are losing out on the safety and routine of playgroups, we are committed to build their resilience and happiness during these tough times. With the support of our partners & donors, Learn To Play’s interventions are impacting children across the country positively.  

Media

See this innovation in action

COVID-19 Response: Home-Visits
In light of playgroups being closed, our Mamapreneurs will be doing home visits and providing each child with their own unique play pack; they will engage with the children at home and support parents through a caregiver support programme. 
COVID-19 Parenting Tips with University of Oxford and University of Cape Town
Parenting can be difficult even at the best of times; for many of us, it’s even more stressful now - especially for families living in poverty and for children experiencing isolation and toxic stress. Learn To Play is proud to have helped the teams at The University of Oxford and University of Cape Town translate their parenting support posters for COVID19 into Setswana, making them accessible to families who need this information and support the most. https://www.covid19parenting.com/setswanaWe share these through parenting support groups via WhatsApp to parents and caregivers across Botswana.
The Learn To Play team
Pictured here are all our fabulous Mamapreneurs from across the country, our Play Rangers and staff - celebrating each other and what we do. 
Consortium of Pre-Primary Data and Measurement in Africa - Rwanda
Represented by our Board Chairperson at the prestigious consortium, we found that the presentations were insightful, reflecting the difficulties yet importance of data collection to catalyse impactful change. We are one of 9 African countries using the MODEL tool in our Monitoring and Evaluation for Learn To Play playgroups. 
Play-At-Home: COVID19 Response
Our WhatsApp group and Play-At-Home packs give parents and caregivers weekly activities to enhance resilience and explore possibilities to support themselves and children of all age groups and learning stages. The play at home kit covers 6 key areas of development as per our Rainbow Play Approach: Social and emotional development, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, language and literacy, cognitive and numeracy, fantasy and creative play. 
Creating a play-based curriculum
Our curriculum covers 15 themes for early childhood development that are contextulaised to the communities we serve, and cover social and emotional development, fine motor skills, literacy and communication, gross motor skills, numeracy and cognitive skills as well as creativity and imagination. 
Training over 80 early childhood teachers in rural Malawi
In 2019, we spent time serving communities in Malawi and training over 80 teachers in the The Rainbow Play method, sustainable play programmes, positive behaviour management, literacy and child protection training. 
Mobile Mentoring: COVID19 Support to 200 families
The WHO warned that effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns on at-risk children include anxiety, uncertainty, separation, disrupted routines and lack of safe spaces to feel loved, cared for and stimulated. To this end, we also launched our Mobile Mentoring programme to support families to continue playing, learning and thriving together despite the national lockdown. Our Playgroups may have closed but our interventions continue. That’s nearly 200 families around Botswana who benefit from weekly support calls from our team who are checking in on all children enrolled with us to see how they are doing. We have been coaching caregivers on simple play at home ideas; offering guidance on government and World Health Organisation COVID-19 policies and providing assistance and information wherever we can to keep their happiness levels high and anxiety low.
Sustainable Play Kits as a COVID19 Response
Currently, we are intensifying our efforts to bring Play to children at risk of isolation and neglect. With the uncertainty of when playgroups will resume, we are creating individual play-at-home kits for every child enrolled in our programmes throughout Botswana. The activities are open ended and cover the 6 key areas of development as per our Rainbow Play Approach: Social and emotional development, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, language and literacy, cognitive and numeracy, fantasy and creative play.
Nature Play
One of our mandates is community conservation and sustainable play. We use what we can find around us to build key skills in early childhood development. 
Food security and sustainable entrepreneurship through organic vegetable farming
Empty streets can mean empty plates for many in our communities.Before lockdown, we made sure that our Mamapreneurs replanted their vegetable gardens for winter so that they would have some food security for themselves and their families. They have reaped a wonderful organic harvest recently, with enough to feed their own families and others in their community.
Ecostraws made by Mamapreneurs from the Chobe Floodplains
Our Mamapreneurs make straws from reeds found on the Chobe riverbanks, these are then sold to lodges, restaurants, schools and cafes as an income generation and livelihood support project for families living in poverty. Plus they're eco-friendly and serve our mandate of community conservation and sustainability. 
Clean water and hygiene interventions
Through our mobile mentoring, we identify families on a weekly basis who still need help with food and essential toiletries. While most have been assisted through the government food hamper scheme, some households didn’t receive support. We have been able to reach out and support these families with essential food hampers as well as toiletries & cleaning supplies including laundry soap, body soap and sanitary pads. Through our mobile mentoring programme we have been chatting with families about access to water and soap. For those that don’t have access to running water, we guided and encouraged them to build a tippy tap. Over the last few weeks, families have built tippy taps in their yards and communities; they’ve shared pictures back with us of what they’ve made.
Mamapreneurs getting certified in First Aid
Mamapreneurs in Six Bricks LEGO Training
Six Bricks is a low-cost, high-impact programme from Care For Education and the LEGO Foundation. We have been trained by the team in South Africa to provide 6 Bricks and Playbox Training to impoverished communities in Botswana and received generous donations of LEGO/DUPLO bricks from them to support our interventions. 
Conservation & literacy through stories and hand-painted story-stones
One of the communities where we work is called Kavimba; it is in what is known as the "wildlife corridor" where it is common to have wild animals such as elephants, lions and buffalos in the area and communities have been coexisting with these animals for many generations. Our mission here is to cultivate this ethos of coexistence and community conservation from an early age. 
Sustainable numeracy and cognitive development
Fine Motor Mats & Home-made Books
Sustainable Play in a San Bushmen Community
One of the communities where we work is home to the Kalahari bushmen. They have been nomadic most of their lives and are now putting down roots to secure education and other opportunities for their children and themselves. They specifically asked for an early childhood programme in their community and we work closely with their tribal leadership to celebrate their indigenous cultural practices, art, skills and heritage - integrating them into our programme. 
Learn To Play / Ithute Go Tshameka
https://youtu.be/FGTxES6yhUE

Milestones

Achievements & Awards

May 2020
Innovation added to the HundrED
May 2019
We got published!
April 2019
Presented at The World Forum Foundation
February 2019
Presented at Africa Play Conference
October 2018
Presented A Poster at the Africa Early Childhood Network (AfECN) Conference
August 2018
Highlighting our Mamapreneurs as Women in Leadership at Women's Conference
October 2017
Keynote Speaker at the inaugural conference for Early Childhood Care and Education in Botswana
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Steps

Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

01
Support our work
Through sponsorship, fundraisers, and grants Learn To Play is able to sustainably scale our free interventions to children who need us the most. Every little bit counts!
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02
Partner with us
We believe that partnerships with diverse communities, organisations and institutions can help us strengthen, deliver and scale our impactful programmes.
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03
Consult with us
We share our expertise with community organisations, schools, early childhood providers, parents or any other organisation that would like to learn more!
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