We #Play2Learn with The LEGO Foundation to help children build critical life-skills and shape a better future.
It is a sunny morning and the wind moves among the trees. Despite a downpour the night before, it is already hot outside. Teacher Christine, 25, stops to help a few children wiggle out of their extra layers of clothing before they run to join their classmates.
Once the children are all together they form a line, reaching out to measure an arm’s length between each other. Stamping their feet in unison they march forward singing, “We are happy as we walk along and everyone who watches us knows that we are happy. We walk left, right, left, right, see us as we go, we are happy and everyone can see.”
Once the children reach the playground they begin a new song, this time about a circle. As they sing, Christine leads the children into a circle formation in preparation for a tag-like counting game to enhance their math skills.
“In Rwanda, we like singing,” explains Christine, who uses songs as instructional tools for her students. “It is part of our culture, so it is easy and fun for children to learn songs. I make up songs to help them remember the things they learn, like how to make a line and other shapes, which foot or hand is left and right, colours, numbers, letters and words.”
A natural-born educator, Christine is determined to fill her students with a love of learning, so 60 per cent of the children’s time at school is engaged in instructional play, which is applied to all of their lessons.
“Children spend a big part of their lives in classrooms,” says Christine. “So a good start is vital.” And while she dedicates hours to lesson planning and creating teaching aids to support this learning approach, she also relies on her intuition to keep her students engaged and active in class.
“The children enjoy my company because I talk to them about things they know as I explain lessons; I can make animal sounds which makes them laugh and I let them move about purposefully so that they are not sitting in one place,” adds Christine. “And whenever I notice that they are getting tired, I change activities and ask them to sing a happy song.”
In addition to the songs, Christine enriches her learning environment by adorning the walls of her classroom with colourful posters depicting numbers, shapes, colours, animals and the alphabet. The children refer to them during the lessons. Numbered stacking blocks to practice addition and subtraction are piled neatly in the corner of the room, while the blackboard is filled with words and letters.
“I noticed my children are alert and active when I let them take turns writing their answers on the blackboard,” explains Christine. “Writing with chalk is not just play, but a way to teach them skills like accuracy and dexterity."
Nestled in the poor, rural farming community of Nyarubande, Rwanda, education here often takes a backseat to economic survival with many young children helping their parents earn an income by working in the fields. They often miss large portions of classroom time and even drop out of school entirely. According to the Nyarubande Primary School’s Head Teacher Alphonse, 32, children who struggle to learn to read, write and perform math are the ones who most frequently lose interest in their studies and are the most likely to drop out. Play-based learning has proven to be an effective and powerful approach to ensuring children not only stay in school, but look forward to coming to school and receiving a quality education each day.
“Children start primary school without a foundation of basic competencies, so they are challenged by simple academic requirements and can quickly lose interest in school,” explains Alphonse. “Play has proven to be the best way to keep their attention. It is the best way to make school fun and the children who need that the most are the young ones. When we make school fun, they are more likely to stay and finish primary school.”
Twelve years ago, Alphonse and the Nyarubande Primary School adopted Right To Play’s play-based, child-centered approach to learning. Since then, he has trained 11 teachers, including Christine, in the approach, reinforcing positive learning environments and the principles of child protection.
It is empowering his teachers to emphasize child participation and the teacher/child interaction, to deliver Rwanda’s new competence-based curriculum and to fuel the students with confidence and a desire to learn more.
As the newest, Right To Play-trained teacher, Christine says she is confident the children in her classroom are receiving a quality education. Next year, Alphonse and Christine anticipate a much larger class as more parents in the community have been expressing their interest in the program.
Story by Lilliane Pitters
Photos by Fred Hirwa