Reading Time: 3 minutes
Who would have guessed that the best part of childhood is also essential in developing the mind and body? Children’s ability to imagine and understand the world around them begins with play. BIED’s play labs help them do just that.
An unexpectedly colourful room sits in the corner of a quiet compound in Nondipara, Banasree. But the room is anything but quiet.
Happy, indistinct clamour of children hit the ears, and those from the neighbouring houses gather to peek into the small window. Inside, children have formed a circle, following the instructions of their ‘khelar shathi’ (play mate).
Today, they are copying her movements. They’re touching their toes, stretching their bodies, extending their little arms up to the ceiling, and then excitedly breaking into a brisk walk at the same spot. That’s how they end their physical activity of the day.
The play leader announces that it’s now story time. “Are You My Mother?” is on today’s list, and so they begin. The children respond every time a new character makes an appearance. “That’s a dog!” they all yell in unison. They’ve read this book before.
Children master the world around them through play. It is the best part of childhood. Play has an unmatched power in enhancing children’s brain development. When it comes to nurturing confidence and a sense of compassion, there is nothing quite like it.
Since 2015, BRAC Institute of Educational Development has launched over 300 Play Labs throughout the country, to make play-based learning accessible for children in low-income communities. Using low-cost, locally sourced, and environmentally friendly materials, these spaces are built to emphasise learning through play. They are targeted towards pre-primary school children, with play models set for children aged 1-3, 3-4, and 4-5.
Just like how nutritious food is crucial in the first year of children’s health, exposure to the world around them is as important to their mental development in the early years. Research shows that play contributes to children’s physical, social, cognitive, and emotional wellbeing, and allows children to be more creative and innovative.
With the help of play leaders and community volunteers, children in Play Labs explore their creativity through different ‘worlds’ of play. BRAC’s Play Labs work with five different elements: Ronger bhubon (world of art), golper bhubon (world of stories), shopner bhubon (music and rhymes), aapon bhubon (free play time, where children have the liberty to play however they wish), and bairer bhubon (outdoor play).
Through these segments, children not only get the freedom to interact with the world around them in ways they feel most at home, they also become more confident and ready for the world.
Play labs aren’t just helping the children – they’re helping transform how communities think about play. Communities where Play Labs operate weren’t always so accommodating towards the idea of sending children to play centres – play time is usually associated with idleness. Through continuous engagement with parents and community members, BRAC supports them to understand the impact and importance of play on children’s development.
Through these Play Labs – which also feature monthly sessions with parents – community belief about learning through play has transformed. Parents are less focused on young children’s academic performance, and more on their development as individuals. Parents feel comfort in knowing that their children are in a safe and trusted place.
“I had no time to play with my son when he was little. He started to speak at the age of four, and has always been a shy child. My daughter is a completely different story. She has been going to the Play Lab since she was very young. At the age of two, she not only spoke, but could sing and rhyme!” – said one mother.
Another mother proudly shares a story of her daughter on a swing: “When I saw her friend push the swing quite hard, my heart started beating faster. But she only told her to keep going. I can’t express how happy I was, watching my daughter grow up to be full of confidence.”
“How do we feel when we can’t find our mothers?” The play leader asks, as she continues reading the story.
“Sad!” The children scream in unison.
The play leader finishes up the story by encouraging one of the children to come to the front and take the lead. What follows after is everyone’s favourite activity: Free play.
In an instant, the children scatter across the room to different stations of their choice. Some gather around the dolls while others sit down with crayons and paper to draw. A child named Fahima chooses to sit on a bamboo stool in a corner to quietly flip through books. Her concentration is unbreakable.
Luba Khalili is a deputy manager at BRAC Communications.