Scaling up actions to give every child the best start in life
How providing home-based kits for preschoolers is helping children learn through play.
Chimi Wangmo is three and half-years old and one of the many children her age in pockets of rural and urban Bhutan who are unable to access early childhood care services in their communities.
Her family – a mother and her grandmother, live atop a hill at Tsachhuphu village in the western district of Punakha. Although connected by a dirt road, her home is still two hour’s drive from the valley where the community’s nearest school and Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre is located.
Chimi has been to the ECCD centre and is familiar with the facilitator. But she stays home with her grandmother when her mother, a local leader, goes to work.
For the past few months, however, she has been spending time playing blocks, her favourite from the several playing and learning materials that were hand delivered in a backpack by the district education officer and the facilitator.
To ensure that pre-school aged children who lived away from an ECCD centre did not miss out on early learning opportunities, UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Education, helped families innovate to support children with more meaningful interaction, and learning opportunities through play and engaged parenting. Through the support of LEGO Foundation, UNICEF distributed 1,358 (688 F) home-based kits to children like Chimi across the country.
Each kit - a backpack, contains a soft toy, colouring book, colour pencils, water colours and brush set, blocks and puzzles and a hygiene kit that consists of soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, towel.
“We are very thankful for receiving the home-based kit, which my daughter loves playing with,” said the mother, Tshewang Wangmo. During the nationwide lockdown in early 2020, Tshewang was also part of the WeChat group created for parents of ECCD children. “I learnt a lot about interacting with children from the materials the ECCD madam shared in the group chat.”
Tshewang said she has observed that her daughter, by playing with the toys, is able to identify objects and animals, asks a lot of questions and often engages in role playing. “If possible, we would prefer an ECCD center for our children but in the absence of one, the kit and support from the facilitator is helping my child learn,” she said.
In Lungtamo, Talo, another remote village in Punakha district is Sonam Deki. The three-year-old loves singing and spends a lot of time at home with her 71-year old grandfather while her parents work in the fields and her elder sister attends school. Given the lack of an ECCD centre nearby and the school, an hour’s walk away, Sonam’s elder sister also did not attend ECCD centre.
Sonam, however, has a better start. She has a home-based kit and an elder sister to help her learn through play. “She is always playing with the new toys she received in the bag,” said her grandfather. “It should help her in school later.”
Monita Tamang, four, is another recipient of the home-based kit in Dzomlingzor village in Tsirang district in central Bhutan. She is among the family’s five children, all daughters. Her younger sisters are six-month old twins.
Her father, Lhawang Dorji Tamang, said through his older children and through the ECCD facilitator’s home visits, he has understood that children learn more when parents spend time to play and teach them. “The kit will give her the skills to learn better later.”
Until she received the home-based kit, her mother, Suk Maya Tamang said that her daughter used to play with dolls. “Now, she plays with the blocks the most and is very protective of her toys, especially the soft ball.”
Ashika Lao Mongar, a three-year-old, in Dzonmlingzor village is as protective of her kit and carries her backpack wherever she goes.
“She plays with it every day and even if I keep it away, she manages to get hold of it,” said her mother. “She loves the puzzle that has pictures of animals.” Her father, Sukman Lao Mongar added that she also colours the book with her seven-year-old brother. “The kit is helpful for children her age as they improve their grip, memory and slowly learn to learn."
In the nearby district of Dagana in Tshendagang village is four and half year old Jamyang Jigme Kelden, who sleeps with the soft toy, a teddy bear, that he received in his home-based kit. “He loves drawing and colouring and spends a lot of time playing with the blocks,” his mother, Bhim Kumari, 32, said.
His parents, who run a shop in the village has seen the difference early learning can make to children. Their older son attended ECCD. ‘Earlier, we used to give him the phone while we worked, especially during the lockdown. But with the kit, we see he is learning while playing with his brother.”
While the first years of a child’s life set the stage for all future growth, many children are missing out on these early moments even as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to widen the gap even further.
UNICEF Bhutan’s Education Officer, Pema Tshomo said the home-based kits were initiated to bridge the early learning gap for these children and also to facilitate meaningful parent-child engagement at home.