Learning through Play: A third Play Hub and Toy Library in Držimurec-Strelec
Three play hubs provide non-formal preschool education for 450 children in Medjimurje county
Within the pilot-program Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia, funded by the European Union, and implemented by UNICEF in cooperation with 11 implementing partners in Medjimurje County, a new Play Hub and Toy Library has been opened for children and their families in Drzimurec Strelec, Mala Subotica municipality. This is the third Play Hub in this county, together with the Play Hubs in Orehovica and Kuršanec, serving as a place for non-formal pre-school education of children and learning through playing, which is especially important for children aged 3 to 6.
The Play Hub in Držimurec-Strelec was established in cooperation of UNICEF, Mala Subotica municipality and UNICEF's implementing partner Open Academy 'Step by Step'. Activities and workshops designed to promote inclusion and preparation for formal education are carried out by early childhood education experts and Roma assistants. Within the Play Hub operates a Toy Library which allows children to borrow toys and picture books free of charge and take them home.
Activities in all three Play Hubs and Toy Libraries will include more than 450 children, and are supported by 3 education experts have been and 3 Roma assistants who are also a part of the team.
“Play Hubs are important places for children aged three to six, especially those who are not enrolled in pre-school education, because in an informal environment near their homes, they socialize with their peers and parents and develop skills and knowledge which are necessary for them later, when starting formal education. The informal setting of the Play Hubs allows parents to discuss everyday situations and challenges they are facing more easily and ask for advice from experts and coordinators. This creates a real support network in the community“, explained Regina M. Castillo, UNICEF Croatia Representative.
"Every Play Hub operates according to the 'Parents and Children Together' philosophy, which promotes opportunities for adults and children to have fun and learn together in an informal environment, while respecting diversity and the right to equality. Play Hubs encourage the development and learning of children who do not have access to formal services, as well as the integration of these services. All Play Hubs open their doors and work in collaboration with local communities. The specificity and quality of the Play Hub lies in the fact that various community representatives, gathered in the Local Action Team, are involved in decision-making and improving the quality of the Hub's work, which ensures that it is truly based on community needs", explained Sanja Brajković, director of the Open Academy Step by Step.
"The Play Hub will be significant for our municipality because it provides an opportunity for everyone to track the development of their child through joint play in the presence of experts, especially for those children who are not involved in preschool education. In my opinion, parental involvement is the most important thing. It is their participation that is a crucial factor and influences the development of a child at the earliest age. This Play Hub offers just that, a place for joint participation in all activities. The role of the municipality was to find the space and decorate it, and after the completion of the UNICEF program, we will ensure the continuity of the program. I would like to thank UNICEF for its cooperation, Open Academy Step by Step, and most of all the Local Action Team and the local community for recognizing the importance of this project", said Valentino Škvorc, Municipality mayor of Mala Subotica.
"The best things a person can do are good deeds, and I believe that the opening of the Play Hub will delight many, especially the youngest. I thank UNICEF for recognizing Međimurje as one of the most socially sensitive counties and for their projects that are enabling a happier and better childhood for children. We hope that this is not the last Play Hub we will open, and the best confirmation and result of a good project will be if the children who use the Play Hub and Toy Library are satisfied", said Međimurje County Prefect Matija Posavec.
"Children's well-being is at the heart of all our activities, and we ensure this through the provision of integrated services of the social welfare system, health and education, together with local communities and non-governmental organizations. The opening of another Play Hub will enable the youngest children who are not enrolled in preschool programs to participate in structured play and learning activities with the assistance of Roma assistants. This greatly encourages their early psychosocial development, development of social skills and encourages integration with peers. Combating poverty and social exclusion is a great challenge, but at the same time a great opportunity to develop, improve and integrate services for children in order to provide them with equal opportunities and a safe and happy childhood. The EU Child Guarantee is an opportunity to take further action to ensure that every child at risk of poverty and social exclusion has access to free health care, free education, free early childhood education, decent housing and adequate nutrition, regardless of which part of Croatia they live in. Such examples of good practice in the pilot program will help shape the future of the Child Guarantee and its implementation in Croatia and across the European Union", said Margareta Madjeric, State Secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy.
"I am glad that on behalf of the Ministry of Science and Education I was able to attend the opening of the Play Hub in Držimurec-Strelec, designed and equipped as part of the pilot program, Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee, funded by the European Union and carried out in Međimurje County by UNICEF with 11 implementing partners. In this way, the good cooperation between the Open Academy Step by Step, UNICEF's implementing partner was once again demonstrated through the activities to empower experts in the education system. Passing through the premises of this Hub, we had the opportunity to see that it will be a place for organized non-formal preschool education, a place for learning through play. Hubs with this purpose are especially important for children aged three to six because, surrounded by their peers and close to home, they have the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge needed for their successful transition to formal education. The Hubs also have Toy Libraries where children and families will be able to borrow toys for free", said Vesna Šerepac, director of the Directorate for Education at the Ministry of Science and Education.
The establishment of Play Hubs and the training and education of experts working with preschool children, has as its aim enhancing inclusive preschool education, and is just one component of the activities carried out by UNICEF in Medjimurje County as part of the EU Child Guarantee pilot program. Access to early childhood intervention in case of developmental delays and disabilities, as well as at increasing the availability of integrated social services for parents and families are two other components of this pilot program focused on achieving equal opportunities for every child and breaking the cycle of child poverty and social exclusion.
The pilot program “Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee” is funded by the European Union and is implemented in seven countries within European Union with the aim of providing access to basic services such as health care, education, quality nutrition, quality housing and care for children growing up in the most difficult circumstances. The Republic of Croatia was given the opportunity to model the EU Child Guarantee in cooperation with European Commission and UNICEF to tackle child poverty and social exclusion, so this pilot program is aimed primarily at children with disabilities, children living in precarious family environments and children belonging to national minority groups. It is implemented in seven municipalities of Medjimurje County, and through cooperation and knowledge of implementing partners interventions taking place in three areas: integrated child protection services and family support, early childhood intervention services and access to quality preschool education.
©UNICEF, 2022. “The information and views set out in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.”
Open Academy "Step by Step" is the implementating partner of the UNICEF Croatia for the implementation of the pilot programme “Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia”, funded by the European Union.
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