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Supervised Neighborhood Play in the Philippines

In Pili, a rural village in the Philippines, one front porch stands out from the rest. Festooned with colorful drawings of vegetables, shapes, animals, sun and clouds, the place rings with the voices of small children most mornings. It’s one of dozens of home-based Supervised Neighborhood Play (SNP) sites in ChildFund Philippines’ operational areas.

Research clearly links the quality of children’s first years with their future physical, cognitive, communicative, social and emotional functioning. Interaction and rich experience are key. But in developing countries, families are too often without resources to provide the environment and stimulation that their young children need. In the Philippines, center-based early childhood development services are scarce and of uneven quality. ChildFund works to fill this gap.

SNPs have proven effective for this purpose, so much so that they are being replicated widely; the provincial government has even patterned SNP modules after ChildFund’s model. Run by ChildFund-trained parent volunteers, SNPs serve children as young as age 1. Play is central, because children learn best that way. Songs, stories and art activities also abound.

With the strong parent support SNPs engender, and because ChildFund’s goals for children are holistic, it makes sense to piggyback other program activities onto SNP sessions. These include training for parents in nutritious food preparation, child care and child protection, as well as weigh-ins to monitor children’s growth.

Mabeth, the SNP facilitator who created the materials that decorate her sister’s front porch in Pili, has volunteered in the role for several years now. She remembers feeling unsure as she began her training — would the children even listen to her? — but what she hears from her alumni, their parents and teachers leaves no room for doubt. “Their teachers all ask which [pre-]school the kids came from,” she says, describing how her SNP children all know their colors, shapes, plenty of songs and even some of the alphabet.

Five-year-old Benedict would sometimes boast, “Teacher Mabeth already taught me that,” when a new song or lesson was introduced.

One hallmark of SNPs is that facilitators and parents make most if not all of their teaching materials, as Mabeth did. ChildFund encourages building local culture into these resources. In Tadian, an indigenous village in the mountains of the northern Philippines where storytelling is an important tradition, SNP volunteers involved all ages in creating culturally sensitive teaching materials. From village elders, the volunteers collected and compiled stories in indigenous dialects. These were then translated and illustrated by children and youth during art workshops with support from parents, teachers and local government partners. The result was six storybooks written in both the local dialect and English — indigenous fables the children enjoy while also learning about teamwork, gratitude, responsibility for their environment and other values.

Marcina, mother of 3-year-old Princess, reports that she enjoyed the storytelling as much as her daughter did. She’s also thankful that they were told in the local dialects and could be shared with the rest of the children at home.

That’s just one of the many benefits that extend beyond SNP. Every session gives children experiences that help prepare them for whatever life holds, whether far in the future or just around the next bend.

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