Making at-risk children Resilient and Life-ready through Play

Samarth tells Toybank’s Program Officer, “I miss my friends and my teachers. Summer vacations at the Play Centers were all about playing for long hours, but that is missing. I have difficulty understanding anything in our online classes. I want people to visit us; but then again, I don’t want them to because I am scared. Didi, will you call me tomorrow also?” This resonates with not only every Toybank beneficiary but also other at-risk children in the lockdown due to COVID—surviving amid economic hardships, away from learning, playtime and social interactions. 

So, as soon as India was on lockdown in March, we knew we had to mitigate these adversities. Ergo, we pivoted into action with great alacrity and modified our Play2Learn Program into a digital model as #ToybankPlayAtHomeKit.  

Even though times are unprecedented, our one-point focus hasn’t shifted from promoting our children’s mental well-being and holistic development through Play. We are making sure they do not lose out on playtime, learning and most importantly, they become resilient to face this crisis and any adversity with grit, self-confidence and skill.
In the throes of tough times
From spending time in the safe spaces of our Play2Learn Centers, our beneficiaries had to be indoors—usually one-room facilities with heightened risks of infection and no scope for physical distancing. Loss of livelihood, fear of uncertain future and frustrations exposed these children to anxiety and stress. School shutdown and separation from peers threaten their socio-emotional development. And the repercussions are already becoming visible.

A study in a recent webinar (Charcha 2020) revealed that 37% of parents have confessed that the pandemic and lockdown have adversely affected their children’s mental well-being and happiness.  

Other numbers are just as alarming: 31% increment in unemployment may push more children into child labor, which as it is, stands at 10 million (Census 2011). Despite homeschooling, inadequate education among 77% urban and 70% rural population is preventing their learning. Taking all this into account, we collaborated with our partner organizations and formed support groups on WhatsApp consisting of teachers and parents. Through these, we deliver two activities daily to our children, in the morning and evening, to keep them engaged and distracted from negativity caused by the pandemic.
Adjusting to the new normal
During the initial phase of the lockdown, our beneficiaries were still making sense of upended routines and the new normal. So, our  activities such as Make a Routine and DIY games such as Sock Toss kept them engaged, brought them mental relief and a healthy schedule. As Parth says, “I like games that make me move,” as he indulged in ‘Tail the Animal’ several times back-to-back for three days. Or Kavi, who had turned lethargic and unhelpful at home had her energy restored when she started doing the activities.
Our PlaytHome Kit enabled our beneficiaries to adjust for more than two months with meaningful engagement, mental stimulation, and helped them build a routine. In June, the activities have graduated to continued learning and aligned with academics as they would have returned to classrooms by now.  
Curbing learning losses
A UNICEF report has revealed that the pandemic and lockdown have impacted 247 million Indian children in elementary and secondary education, besides 28 million children in Anganwadi centres. Our beneficiaries’ learning has also been affected, and to bridge that gap, we have carefully curated activities that include shape, colour, number and letter recognition as well as categorize and sort things. 

The Toybank PlayAtHome Kit is also packed with Science experiments about air pressure, water molecules and suchlike, Word Search puzzles on States and Capitals to revise geography, and puzzles to enhance numerical and literacy skills among others. Just like at our Play2Learn Sessions, children are learning about managing their emotions and forming good habits through ‘What am I feeling?’ and ‘Good Habit or Bad Habit?’ and many such activities.  

Simple yet impactful
#ToybankPlayAtHomeKit playsheets have had a profound impact on our kids. While Vikas from a tribal region in Madhya Pradesh enjoys games that he had never before played, kids in Latur were excited by the colourful drawings on the playsheets. A teacher states, “Initially confused about online studies, students rarely responded to notes and homework. But the exciting play activities caught their attention.

They recognized the Toybank logo, and it made them so happy that they started completing the activities.” Primary school students struggled to recognize shapes from their text-based online class. But Toybank’s activities on shape recognition encouraged them to practically draw, cut the shapes, and colour them by themselves. “Giving the children control of their learning makes it more exciting for them,” one teacher observes.

We’re going the distance
At the moment, we are impacting 44,000+ children every day (as of 24 July, 2020). We have gone beyond Maharashtra and are reaching out to children in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Ladakh. We have formed a nexus between 1,943 teachers, 6,501 parents in 383 support groups and us. Going back to school will need readjustment after months of being at home in a lockdown. Since our Play interventions have kept the children patiently engaged, the transition will be easier. After the disconcerting experience of the pandemic, children will need to be strong in more than just academics. Equipped with resilience and mental relief, they will be not only school-ready but also life-ready.

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