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It's Playtime in Laos!

Loun plays wheel rolling in a yard next to her house in Bokeo Province, Laos.
Loun plays wheel rolling in a yard next to her house in Bokeo Province, Laos.
July 27, 2012

Four-year-old Nuam, his three-year-old sister Loun, and their older sister 10-year-old Noy are lucky. They get to play with educative and exciting toys their parents themselves made, toys like a wooden car, an old scooter wheel, a toy grasshopper, and woven rattan balls to play kick volleyball and other games. Not too long, ago, however, such constructive and independent play was not part of their childhood.

The reason? Twenty-eight-year-old Lat and her 43-year-old husband Bounhiem, like the other parents in the Laotian village of Huay Pha, were unaware that play promotes the holistic development of children, especially those under the age of six, and, because there was no pre-primary school and there were no teachers who could provide the necessary encouragement.

Good Parents Provide Toys and So Much More

All that changed when Plan provided parenting orientation designed to teach caregivers how to provide a healthy environment which promotes the cognitive, physical, social and emotional development of children.

Besides learning how to make toys with local resources, the parents who participated in three days of training spread out over several months learned about topics as diverse as local arts, songs, and stories; play and personal hygiene; and involving children in household chores like feeding animals.

Children, Parents and Education All Benefit from Play

The advantages for the children of parent-trainees are several. Plan’s Early Childhood Care and Development program manager Mr. Somxay Inthasone explains: “When children play with friends, they divide the responsibilities of play, thereby learning how to interact and survive in a society.” Since the toys are properly made, they cannot be used for violent games. Children are safe.

Unfortunately, there are still those parents in Huay Pha who are too busy to play with their children or who have not recognized the need to. Those parents who are aware, however, are not willing to let that happen.

Parents benefit from encouraging independent play, too. With their children so productively occupied, parents can devote themselves working in the field.

Educational authorities are also pleased. Mr. Khanthong, a technical officer at the district education and sports bureau and a trainer of parents, claims that children in the first grade whose parents have been oriented do better on exams than those whose parents are less aware.

Future Plans

The parenting orientation, however, is only just a beginning. Not only do the unconvinced need convincing but even converted parents need follow-up training. As Lat notes, some of the lessons, could be forgotten, “We hope that Plan will come train us more as we also have forgotten many things.”

Also envisioned is nation-wide replication. Together with the Ministry of Education and Sports, Plan aims to promote crucial early childhood education and development in villages across Laos that do not have pre-primary schools. The focus will move from what the benefits of play and good parenting are to how to realize those benefits.

The good-parenting initiative will support Plan Laos’s ECCD program, which began nearly five years ago and now supports 3,501 children in 67 villages in the disadvantaged districts of Pha Oudom, Meung and Paktha.

The ultimate goal, as Mr. Somxay says, is for the Plan project to equip new parents with the skills to look after their children without external support.

And the children’s role? They will, of course, do what children do best: play.

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