Caregiver learning through play

Helping young children learn and thrive through the power of play

World Children’s Day was recently celebrated on 20 November to commemorate the date when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. HOPE worldwide South Africa believes every child has the right to thrive and learn.

Extensive research shows that the first few years of a child’s life are the most critical in their development. This is a time of rapid brain development that determines the future of a child’s ability to thrive and learn. The research also shows that children learn best through play.

As we enter the holiday season, many parents and other adults who care for children now have more quality time to spend with their children after a busy year fulfilling life’s many obligations. This is an opportunity to strengthen your bond with your child and promote their learning through the power of play by simply engaging in enjoyable, everyday activities together. We call this responsive and playful parenting.

Responsive parenting means parents are aware of their children’s emotional and physical needs and respond to them appropriately and consistently. This promotes the healthy development of your child in variety of different ways. Playful parenting promotes learning, which can be as simple as having fun by teaching your child colours while you do the laundry or running and skipping with them to keep their bodies healthy. It can also mean reading stories to your child, which teaches them vocabulary and communication skills that will help them learn to read and write in primary school. It can also mean teaching your child about different fruit and vegetables when you go shopping, helping them name their feelings as they happen, and playing games as well as drawing and colouring with them to improve their creativity and future writing.

HOPE worldwide South Africa has developed a simple but powerful programme that helps parents and caregivers caring for children from birth to 6 years old in their responsive and playful parenting. The programme, called the Caregiver Learning Through Play (CLTP) programme, is being run by HOPE worldwide South Africa in partnership with Save the Children, Ntataise and the Early Learning Resource Unit. It is supported by the LEGO Foundation.

The CLTP programme offers parents and caregivers of young children useful tools, tips and ideas for learning through play. These ideas and tools often include local traditions and customs to make learning enjoyable and relevant and techniques you can use immediately. By enrolling in the CLTP training programme, you will also gain self-confidence and better knowledge of different forms of play-based learning to assist your child or children to grow as healthy and strong as possible. It will give you skills to support them to have healthy bodies and brains, learn about themselves, express their emotions and develop their social skills.

The programme also teaches practitioners and teachers who work in early childhood development (ECD) centres and programmes these skills. Focusing on interactive and fun ways to learn, the programme strengthens the bond between caregiver and child and supports the child’s overall well-being, promoting the best brain development for young children.

There is a free downloadable toolkit of easy-to-follow tips and tricks that are meant to help caregivers and their children connect and learn at home through play. The course has an instant downloadable certificate of completion if you have worked all the way through the eight modules. To complete a module will take approximately 30 minutes (including the entertaining activity you can implement with your child). We encourage you to improve your skills as a caregiver by registering for and completing this free online course.

The power of play

The CLTP senior programmes manager at HOPE worldwide South Africa, Nkhensani Mabunda, stresses how important it is to sing, talk, read and play with your child from the day they are born. “Play can happen anywhere and at any time and helps children build strong relationships, improve their health and learn how to solve problems. A lot of children may not get the chance to go through a formal early learning programme, but their families can still help them experience the same playful learning at home. The types of stimulation activities and ideas offered by CLTP will help them develop some of the things they need to become school-ready. The CLTP is proud to have been integrated into the National Parenting Programme delivered by the Department of Education.”

Through play, children stay engaged in an activity, which keeps their minds exploring, thinking, learning and imagining. For example, when a toddler stacks blocks or builds things in the sandbox, they are getting their brain ready to learn mathematics, science and engineering. When children sing songs with verses that repeat, it helps them learn how to be creative and remember that things happen in a certain order. Children learn to make sense of social skills in the world they live in when they play dress-up and house-house.

In South Africa, 66% of the most vulnerable children are not in early learning programmes (ELPs). Of children who do have access to an ELP, six out of 10 are falling behind. The importance of the CLTP programme cannot be overemphasised in assisting children to not be left behind once they reach primary school and journey through their education.

The CLTP programme

Parents and caregivers who go through the two four-hour training sessions learn how important they are to a child’s development. They also learn about the different kinds of play and how it helps children learn and grow. The training sessions unpack the benefits of responsive care and playful parenting for children, and guides them in how to find and plan play-based activities at home. By participating in CLTP training, caregivers of young children such as mothers, fathers, grandparents, child minders and au pairs or even neighbours etc. are empowered to be more playful and responsive in their caregiving and actively incorporate learning through play into their daily interactions with children.

ECD practitioners – such as community health workers, social workers and ECD professionals who work in programmes for children from birth to 6 years old – can also sign up for a more rigorous version of the training, which will assist them in their professional development. It will be very helpful for them to understand their part in helping children experience a continuum of responsive care and learning through play. It will also give them the skills to explain the importance of responsive care and learning through play to families and caregivers of children with whom they work.

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