Plan International, July 2012 – Can you remember your favorite toy from your childhood? Whether it was a teddy bear, a Barbie or a pet rock, chances are you loved that toy more than anything else in the world. What you may not know is how that toy impacted your development and in more ways than you could possibly know.
Toys are extremely important for a child’s development. Research has shown that children’s learning mainly happens through play – and what else is a toy for but to play. When children play with toys they learn and develop various skills that will support them to succeed in school and in life. Toys for instructional and free play support children to develop a sense of self, responsibility for themselves and others, social behavior, gross and fine motor skills, observation and problem solving skills, logical thinking and math skills, listening, speaking, reading and writing skills.
When children use toys for ‘pretend play,’ they learn how to communicate thoughts, ideas and feelings and they learn to socialise, negotiate, co-operate and resolve conflicts with others. When developmentally and age appropriate, toys are vital tools for children which enable them to acquire basic knowledge in science, math and literacy. Toys are important for children’s development because children learn mainly from doing things, not observing.
All children need hands on materials for learning and development. However, children in disadvantaged communities rarely have access to and benefit from these.
Since 2010, Plan in Australia and Indonesia have worked on an early learning project in Indonesia with a focus on parenting, quality early learning centres and transitions to primary school supports. The focus is on ensuring the project is culturally and age appropriate, flexible and responsive to the needs of vulnerable children and communities, appropriate for rural settings, and able to be community managed for long-term sustainability.
Ms. Amandine Baillet is Plan’s Early Learning Materials Specialist and recently spent six months in Indonesia helping Plan staff to understand the importance of toys in a child’s development. This included helping project staff gain practical skills such as development of play and learning toys from low cost, locally available and recycled materials, how to use child development tools for monitoring and stimulating child development for children aged 0-6 and supporting skills development for parenting group facilitators.
Ms. Baillet shares some of the significant differences between Australia and Indonesia in the way support is given to child development in the early years.
“In Australia, we promote free play as the most important part of the day. Most early learning centres have rooms set up with different corners and play experiences all day long to enhance the opportunity for children to play freely with or without peers and therefore enable the self-learning process to occur. In Indonesia, teaching styles are generally more rudimentary with instructions and rote chanting used as a mean for learning. Children learn the alphabet, words, numbers, colours and shapes by copying and repeating what teachers say or do and this does not allow children to develop problem solving skills, initiative, independence and self-confidence.
Safety is also understood differently in Australia and Indonesia. In Australia, a lot of work has been done to educate community members, parents and teachers around children’s hygiene, nutrition, and protection and techniques are mostly well understood and applied. In Indonesia, work is in progress and the real challenge is that there are some religious and cultural practices that have a negative impact on children’s well-being.
Finally, the ways of disciplining children also differs between the two countries. While Australia uses mainly verbal cues, facial expressions and boundaries or rules for children, the use of corporal and verbal punishment is very common in Indonesia.”
While in Indonesia, she demonstrated how children in low resource settings can access quality early learning materials by producing three sample sets of classroom learning materials. The toys promote 63 early childhood learning competencies. The low cost preschool materials include materials that are age appropriate, contextually relevant, safe and attractive to children for math circle, literacy circle and corner play – all important parts of a daily routine for children.
When she presented the classroom learning material set to Plan Indonesia and Plan Australia colleagues at a project planning and reflection workshop in Kupang (West Timor, Eastern Indonesia), it generated interest amongst the Indonesian team about how they can work with caregivers to produce learning materials themselves.
A practical workshop for field staff and caregivers was also organised, which focused on corner play and maths activities. The aim of the workshop was to give practical examples of making and using toys that could be translated to the classroom and to generate interest and motivation amongst caregivers for further improving early learning centres through the development and use of quality materials.
In the six months since she left Indonesia, the field team have carried on the work that was begun. Plan-supported early learning centres now contain a range of learning materials that have been made by caregivers and parents with the support of the field team, for example puzzles, blocks, maths bags and board games. Ms. Baillet comments, “I feel proud that I have helped to make a difference for children in Plan’s ECCD project in Indonesia through demonstrating that quality toys can be made from local, low cost and recycled materials and that children have improved development outcomes when they are supported to learn through play.”
By Amandine Baillet, Plan International