Starting with the parents. Brief introduction to the Playful Parenting Programme

Since 2010, Care for Education (CfE) has provided training sessions for any recipients of Play Boxes or Six Bricks sets. Our training programmes are aimed at enriching Early Childhood Development (ECD) and Foundation Phase curricula, with the aim of implementing Learning through Play (LtP) methodologies in ECD centres and primary school classrooms. CfE’s dream is to extend this programme so that Play Boxes and Six Bricks can benefit the children’s development within their own homes. COVID-19 had a drastic impact on ECD programmes and schools, forcing many of them to close their doors. This was an ideal opportunity for CfE to launch our Playful Parenting Programme (PPP), which aspires to encourage parents to engage with their children. Our aim is to train parents on the importance of parenting and how interacting with their children is the cornerstone of their development.

According to Wills and Kika-Mistry (2021) [1], temporary ECD programme closure remains a primary reason for non-attendance at ECD. Before schools opened in 2021, they found that the ECD attendance rate was exceptionally lower than in previous years, with their sample indicating that only 7% of households with one child had attended an ECD programme between the 2nd to the 14th of Feb 2021. Irrespective of the causes that led to such a low attendance rate, this reinforced CfE’s desire to bring LtP into the home, to teach parents what it means for their children to learn through play. To achieve this goal, CfE hosted some of its first parent focused trainings, using a tailored training methodology to introduce LtP and Six Bricks.

CFE piloted our Playful Parenting Programme with two cohorts of parents. The first was with parents whose children are supported by The Love Trust, a not-for-profit committed to deliver quality education and social care to vulnerable children in South Africa. The Love Trust was founded in 2009 and now has classes all the way to Grade 7 with a reach of over 20 000 children in disadvantaged communities. We reached out to parents from one of The Love Trust’s ECD centres, which currently has about 120 children ranging from 3 years to 6 years. The second cohort was with parents who send their children to a number of ECDs within Atteridgeville, a community that CfE has worked with for over a decade. A total of 95 parents attended our training sessions with each parent representing a unique household. This was due to COVID restrictions allowing only one parent to attend the training.

When the parents arrived at each workshop, they thought it was a parents’ meeting, and they sat quietly at their tables waiting for the workshop to start. It was easy to learn that there have not been many workshops, if at all, where parents are taught to play meaningfully with their children. After the workshop, some parents confessed that they thought this was going to be, “one of those usual boring parents’ meetings”, and only attended for administrative reasons with no thought that they were going to learn something meaningful. Judging by the laughter and giggles after the first activity, it was clear that this training would positively affect their lives. The enjoyment on the parents' faces with this level of engagement was a treat to behold.

As ambassadors of Learning though Play, it was a beautiful sight to witness how receptive the parents were to the LtP methodology. It was also interesting to notice how the parents have not been exposed to the power of LtP, especially in a formal educational context. A parent noted, “In this day and age, it’s not easy being a parent because we raise our kids without knowing a lot about education”. As humbling as this comment is, it highlights the need to teach parents about parenting and education, especially non-traditional methods such as LtP. There was so much energy in the room you could almost ‘see their light bulbs illuminate’ the more they absorbed the knowledge of how to bring foundational education into their home using LtP. As the parents learnt to play, they were quick to comment how, “your workshop is inspirational and fun, it is teaching me a lot about being a parent. My child is a very active child and since learning this, things will be better between us”.

CfE collected post-training feedback from 17 parents to gauge how they felt about the training, as well as what they have learnt about LtP. There was an overwhelmingly positive response regarding the overall training and perceived usefulness on what the parents had learnt. When asked if they found the workshop useful, apart from the common exclamation of, “yes!! This was the most amazing workshop, I can’t wait to go play with my child”, responses included themes around, ‘learning new skills’, ‘problem solving’ and ‘imagination’. Some parents explained how the session taught them ways to deal with different feelings and become more cognisant to thinking and feeling.

It was clear not only to CFE, but echoed by the voices of the parents, that workshops like these are very important and should be done often. We learnt that the parents are craving the knowledge on how to become a better parent for their children’s development. This was the start to what we envision as a beautiful journey of equipping parents with the power of Learning through Play, providing our children with the highest standard of learning while they live away from the classroom.

[1] Wills, G., Kika-Mistry, J. (2021). Early childhood Development and Lockdown in South Africa- 2021 quarter 1 update on attendance trends.

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