We #Play2Learn with The LEGO Foundation to help children build critical life-skills and shape a better future.
Dino, 31, teaches Natural Science and Physical Education at Changalane Primary School in Mozambique. Today, his Grade 7 students are outside in the morning sunshine on the grassy playground, jostling playfully.
“Circle, circle,” chants Dino, clapping his hands rhythmically and the children respond with the same chant as they quickly form a circle. “Follow the leader,” he calls out and the large circle snakes its way around the field. For a few minutes, they sing and dance along to Dino’s instructions, telling them to wiggle, point to or move different body parts. Afterwards, the children play a game of tag, chasing each other ‘tagging’ different parts of their bodies. Once a child is tagged, they are ‘frozen’ and can’t run anymore. The children run and shriek with laughter, even when they are supposed to be frozen. They switch teams and the game continues until Dino calls them back into a discussion circle.
As they talk, the children answer questions on how to take care of their bodies and why it is important to do this. They also discuss activities and situations that may endanger their bodies and work together to come up with methods to prevent these dangers.
The discussion is energetic and the students participate eagerly. Dino holds these ‘study and play’ sessions twice a week and he says the children look forward to them. “Students are showing marked improvement and attendance is high because of the games; the anticipation keeps them responding in class and motivated about school.”
“Students are showing marked improvement and attendance is high because of the games; the anticipation keeps them responding in class and motivated about school.”
Dino uses play-based learning sessions like this one to facilitate discussions about student’s physical and emotional well-being. “We teach messages that change their attitudes and we are able to talk about ‘serious’ things which otherwise seem like taboo.” An example of this is personal hygiene which can be a difficult discussion in a class of adolescent girls and boys.
In conservative Mozambican society, children mostly rely on their peers and a few adults like teachers or medical personnel for information regarding their bodies.
Dino explains that previously he felt it was easier to avoid these conversations altogether. “It was difficult to talk about personal issues with children because it made me uncomfortable. I thought it was more appropriate for female teachers or nurses to talk to girls about their bodies; I was not confident about how to relate to teenage girls.”
“Play-centered learning is good for the teachers as well as the students; personally, I am now less fearful of addressing sensitive topics like HIV/AIDS, sexuality and pregnancy when I use a game. The students are also less scared of me and each other when we use a playful approach; they ask questions openly and participate. Using play relaxes everyone and we talk like friends.”
“Play-centered learning is good for the teachers as well as the students; personally, I am now less fearful of addressing sensitive topics like HIV/AIDS, sexuality and pregnancy when I use a game.
“In a playful situation, it is easier to talk about ‘serious’ things which otherwise are considered difficult to discuss,” he says. As they play, students also learn how to think critically, communicate confidently, and respect each other, value teamwork, leadership and resourcefulness.
Augustine, 12, says he enjoys these sessions and never misses Dino’s class. “The teacher is kind and speaks calmly; everybody gets a chance to give their answer.”
Dino completed his play-based learning training in 2015. The training guides teachers like Dino in how to use play to develop students’ critical life skills like confidence, resilience, communications and collaboration. For Dino, the training has helped to break down the barriers to communication between himself and the students. His students are invited to speak openly, take responsibility for their bodies and to participate in making decisions about their health and their lives.
Since then, he says, he has found fulfillment in his work. “I love teaching and I love helping children; learning this method gave me a way to combine these two things that I love in a way that makes me happy as a person.”
“Before I did this training, teaching, it was an arduous task talking in class all day,” Dino says. Even worse, he could see the disinterest in the children’s faces and blamed himself when they missed school or stopped attending altogether. “But now,” he says, “things go well in the classroom when the teacher is also a friend. Work is work, but the play element makes all the difference.”