Priyanka Handa Ram, Founder
Learn To Play
HundrED has selected this innovation to
Learn To Play
Learn To Play, or Ithute Go Tshameka in Setswana, provides high-impact, scalable and sustainable early childhood solutions for children aged 0-5 by unlocking every child’s potential through play and uplifting women’s economic opportunities to create vibrant villages.
Our programme utilises an untapped resource as the key change-agent: Mothers. In each community, mothers and nurturing caregivers receive training and support to establish child-centred, developmentally-appropriate, and culturally-relevant playgroups. In this way, our 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
In 2017, Priyanka founded Learn To Play with the vision to ensure that access to high-quality early childhood education was a right and not a luxury. Learn To Play is a social enterprise that harnesses paid early learning from private preschools to fund free early learning at our playgroups. Since 2017, we have opened operations in four communities and fostered positive community relationships based on the following 3 philosophies:
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.
Our most rewarding moments come when we see children, parents, community leaders and Mamapreneurs connecting through the power of play to build a brighter Botswana.
Why this matters
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.
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 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.
In response to nationwide lockdowns and playgroup restrictions, Learn To Play harnessed our experience in positive parenting and play to support caregivers and families at home through a Mobile Mentoring programme and by conducting supportive home visits to every family across all 4 districts that we serve. By interacting with parents directly in this way, we were able to glean a much deeper insight into the everyday struggles, challenges and successes for the families we serve. Our relationships with parents and caregivers strengthened despite all the challenges we jointly faced because we had a shared vision: the best interest for their children. Sometimes this meant play ideas and facilitating learning, other times it was simply caregiver support.
We know that parenting can be hard work even at the best of times and when we are challenged by day-to-day struggles AND a global pandemic, it can be even harder. Our team’s dedication to supporting children and families in 2020 inspires us to have a strategic focus on playful and responsive caregiving. This strengthens the confidence and competence of mothers, fathers and other primary caregivers; promoting positive caregiver-child relationships that develop children’s attachment, growth, learning and lifelong development.
In 2021, we have partnered with World Vision to offer their Go Baby Go programme to build a foundation for every baby’s future in the first 1000 days. In addition to this, our team are carrying out workshops and mobile support for parents on play, school readiness, mindfulness, positive behaviour management and holistic child development.
We have been working alongside the University of Oxford and the University of Cape Town to translate their COVID-19 Parenting resources and disseminate them as widely as possible to caregivers across Botswana.
We know that improving support for families that builds on local strengths, cultural wisdom and positive ECD practices will augment the meaningful impact that we have already been able to create, and we strongly believe that it takes a vibrant village to raise a child.
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.
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