Playgroups Help Kick-Start Children's Learning
“When I started primary school, I was already familiar with letters and numbers, so it was easy for me to follow and participate in the class,” says 9-year-old Lucia, a primary school student in Aileu district, Timor-Leste, who is reaping the benefits of her early years at playgroup.
Attending pre-school is vital for children, to prepare them mentally and socially before they make the transition to primary school. In Timor-Leste, only 5-10 percent of children attend pre-school, which can have serious implications for a child’s development.
The playgroup in Manufoni sub-village, where Lucia was first introduced to education, was set up in 2010 by the local community in partnership with Plan, as part of Plan’s Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) program. It’s one of 20 playgroups in Aileu and Lautem districts providing a welcoming and safe place for children to learn and play.
Up to 20 children aged 2-5 years old come with their parents or guardians every day. Girls and boys are introduced to letters and numbers and learn to sing, draw and play together in a child-friendly space. The teachers in the playgroup are all volunteers chosen by the community and trained by Plan staff.
“As a primary school teacher, I know that it’s important for children to go to a playgroup so that they can be introduced to the key concepts in their mother tongue and are familiar with letters and numbers,” says Marciana, Lucia’s teacher at primary school.
“From my experience, children who do not attend playgroup before entering primary school aren’t familiar with the idea of lessons and are often scared on their first day of school.”
As Lucia adds, "I want my young sisters and brother to also feel the same as me. I feel confident in class. During school holidays, I help my mother to accompany my young brothers and sisters to attend playgroup.”
Another part of Plan's ECCD program focuses on educating parents about child development. Trainings cover topics like the roles and responsibilities of parents, indicators of child health, the importance of early childcare, effective communication between parents and children, and positive discipline.
“This training is to increase parents’ awareness on the importance of their roles and responsibilities to support their children’s growth, development and protection. We want all children to get the best possible start in life by learning at playgroup and being well taken care of at home," says Maria Betris Sarmento, Plan Timor-Leste’s ECCD coordinator.