Introducing the Play and Learning Hubs
As a result of the war in Ukraine, thousands of boys and girls lost their opportunities to play and learn. In Slovakia, UNICEF allows them to continue their development and be a child again.
Playing and learning is crucial for every child’s development – starting from when they are born. The first years of life shape a child’s development in every aspect – physical, linguistic, social, and emotional. Those years build the foundation for their future life.
After everything Ukrainian children experienced over the last year, providing them with opportunities to play and learn is a life-saving intervention. A safe learning space helps them make sense of the events around them, deal with loss, adversity or trauma, and can alleviate toxic stress. Through something as simple as play, children start to develop their first skills, which will remain important for all stages of their lives, and learn about diversity, tolerance, and solidarity.
The Play and Learning Hubs
Slovakia faced a gap in the availability of preschool and kindergarten spaces even before the full-scale war in Ukraine. Even though the government prioritized efforts for early childhood education, the national system remains overstretched, and the arrival of Ukrainian children created additional strain to the system. This is why UNICEF decided to support the expansion of preschool capacities to support all young children – from Slovakia, Ukraine and other countries.
Together with its partners, UNICEF created 23 Play and Learning Hubs across 13 towns in Slovakia where children can spend a few hours every day to meet friends, develop new skills (such as early literacy and numeracy, creativity, socialization, curiosity) and explore their surroundings and connecting with the real world environment.
The Hubs are open to all children – from Ukraine, Slovakia and other countries. After all, play is universal and can be an important vehicle for promoting diversity, tolerance and social cohesion.
The Hubs provide a wide range of services that cater to young children’s needs, including care, play, learning, and peer interaction. Moreover, they bring back a sense of normalcy to their lives. UNICEF also distributed Early Learning Kits to the children, which are full of toys and early learning tools like balls, little blocks, pencils, or play doh.
I see that my child became more alive. More joyful. She is happy. She comes home and tells me what friends she has there, whom she met, what they were doing. My child loves it, and she is not alone.
The activities of the Hubs are facilitated by early childhood educators and animators. In many cases, these roles are filled by education professionals from Ukraine who are working closely with their Slovak counterparts.
Many of the Hubs serve as a source of support for parents and caregivers, including by offering mental health and psychosocial support and support groups. Through interactions with the staff and the services for families, the Hubs also help mothers and caregivers cope with their own struggles, loss and trauma.
Lastly, the Hubs also promote interactions between Slovak and Ukrainian children, strengthening the integration of Ukrainian families into Slovak society by promoting community-based activities and opportunities to interact with people of different backgrounds and nationalities.