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Learning by Playing in Early Childhood

Images of children at the Early Childhood Development Center in Ziguinchor.

At Katy Kane Early Childhood Development Center in Ziguinchor, Senegal, the day begins at 8:45, when the 3-year-olds arrive with their parents. Chattering in their green smocks, the children line up to go inside for their teacher’s morning welcome.

Like other ChildFund-supported Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers, this one is focused on enhancing the holistic development of young children ages 3 to 5.

“Typically, a child’s day in the center is about their psychological, physical and intellectual development and stimulation,” says Katy Kane’s head teacher. “Every morning, we start with the physical. At the end of a gymnastics activity in the school yard, children use the bathroom and wash their hands, then return to class for a few minutes to relax before continuing the program of the day.”

This day’s schedule includes language activities to help the children become bilingual and learn French, singing to help develop listening and speaking skills, and exercises to help them learn about categorizing objects. “For example, today we focus on weighing objects to emphasize the concepts of ‘heavy’ and ‘light,’” says the teacher. “We organize activities around play, which is their natural job.”

In fact, ChildFund’s ECD programs are grounded in the fact that play is how children learn best. “At this age,” says the teacher, “learning has great impact on children, because they are responsive and take anything they are taught and imitate everything they can see around them.”

Parents are noticing the difference in their children’s behaviors.

“Honestly, I have seen changes in my son’s behavior and knowledge,” says Niama, noting that 3-year-old Amadou started at the center in November 2011. “For example, he often asks questions in French, like, ‘What’s your name? How are you? Where do you live?’ He behaves well and seems to like going to the center. In the beginning, he would cry every morning, but now he has become more enthusiastic about going. He is even a little more correct and less capricious towards others. I have also noticed that he has changed his games. I will spare nothing for him to finish the preschool cycle in the ECD center, and I will also send in his younger sister two years from now.”

Yassine, whose daughter, Aissatou, began attending last December, also sees changes. “Now, she doesn’t insult anymore, and even lectures her siblings, telling them her teacher forbids insults,” says Yassine. “Compared to her older siblings who attended other preschools, she is doing better for her age. She sings our national anthem better than her sister who is in the third grade of the elementary school.

“For the well-being of children, I am ready to convince other parents to send their children to the ECD center because of its quality,” Yassine adds.

It’s powerful when parents see ChildFund’s ECD programs bringing out the best in their children. But the children themselves, as they grow and learn to their potentials, are the best testimony of all.