Teaching Parents the Power of Play
A series of workshops in Kupang is empowering parents to provide meaningful play experiences for their children at home.
EAST NUSA TENGGARA, Indonesia - In a small bamboo classroom in the rural mountainous village of Bikoen, a group of parents huddle around Fandro, 6, as he attempts to solve a geometric puzzle.
“Take number 1 and follow the line to put it in the correct shape,” says Alfaksat Haumeni, 45, as he guides Fandro to place the circle in its designated spot.
Alfakasat is one of 13 parents participating in a monthly Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) meeting held at the local PAUD (early childhood education centre). These meetings are intended to support primary caregivers in the community and empower them to take an active role in their child’s early development. The topic for today is “Learning Through Play,” which teaches parents that engaging and interacting with their young children through play-based activities is one of the most important ways in which they gain critical skills and knowledge.
The meeting began with a presentation by mentors from the sub-district who introduced key points on facilitating playful learning for children. Afterwards, the parents were divided into groups and provided with activities that they could replicate at home. Along with the geometric puzzle that was made using an old piece of cardboard, the mentors also handed out a recycled egg carton with ice cream sticks meant to teach children colours.
Their message was clear: any kind of object can be repurposed to instantly create stimulating and powerful learning opportunities.
According to Yeni Boymau, one of the early childhood education (ECE) teachers at the school, this type of hands-on learning in the home environment complements the work of educators in the PAUD.
“Parents can reinforce at home what their children learn in school,” she explains. “They can also see their child’s development first-hand.”
As the other parents offered words of encouragement to the children during the activity, Alfakasat took
careful notes about what he observed. After they had finished, he and the other parents were invited to share their findings with the rest of the attendees.
“We learned how we can play with our children using puzzles,” he said as he stood in front of the classroom. “In this game, they learned about shapes and how to count to three.”
“As parents we are so proud that the children accomplished these tasks,” he concluded.
Changing Community Attitudes on Parenting
A 2017 study conducted by UNICEF on early childhood development centres in Kupang found that 23 per cent of mothers and 66 per cent of fathers in the community had not read books to their children in the past three days. The study also found that 84 per cent of the centres did not organize workshops on parenting, further compounding this issue.
“In these districts, we saw a need to not only strengthen the teachers’ capacities but also the parents’ capacities to increase their awareness on positive parenting practices,” says Dwi Purwestri, a UNICEF Early Childhood Development Officer based in Kupang.
With support from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), UNICEF is working to address this gap by providing guidance for ECE managers to develop events on parenting education.
While the PTA meetings have been well received by the community, motivating parents to attend can present a challenge. During the harvesting season, fewer parents usually participate as they are cultivating crops in the fields. Moreover, mothers tend to outnumber fathers who choose to either work or stay at home.
For Alfakasat, who has been regularly coming to the meetings since June, the knowledge he gains is equally important to his work as a farmer. “If I’m not coming, I lose new information that I can apply at home,” he says.
Since attending the meetings, he says he has come to better understand and appreciate his son’s development. “It was hard to let my son play because he could be stubborn and naughty,” he recalls. “But I learned that we [as parents] should support their mentality and give them the freedom to play.”