As part of their work to fight educational poverty and create growth opportunities from a young age, Associazione 21 Luglio formed two Play Hubs in the suburb of Tor Bella Monaca in Rome for children aged zero to three years and their families.
While one of the Play Hubs sits inside the former headquarters of Associazione 21 Luglio, the other is a mobile trolley. In July 2021, the mobile Play Hub began traveling around the neighborhood for the first time. It was positioned on the Piazza Castano square for two days. A long list of games and activities took place in the afternoon when the square typically fills with children and parents. The community welcomed the mobile Play Hub and its Toy Library with great interest and curiosity.
Meeting the needs of families in Tor Bella Monaca
During visits from the mobile trolley, the Play Hub team followed a tailored program. At first, children explored and interacted independently with the educational and play equipment; then, they held a structured workshop with animated storytelling. Participants joined from the area adjacent to the square and other parts of the neighborhood. It proved an opportunity for children and parents to make new acquaintances in their community. Parents also especially enjoyed the chance to participate in fun activities with their children.
Starting in September 2021, the mobile Play Hub and its Toy Library began traveling on a regular schedule. Every week, for two days, from 9:00 to 13:00, the trolley now visits these the most important squares in Tor Bella Monaca. And, after only a few months, the mobile Play Hub team has encountered many children aged zero to three who, for different reasons, do not attend a nursery. Meanwhile, the turnout for the mobile Play Hub was large, especially when it travels to the Piazza Castano square, which is situated in a very densely inhabited area.
Noting this gap, the team began an observation period to collect information about parents’ needs, wishes, and expectations. This data helped inform the planning of educational and recreational activities specifically designed for children aged zero to three. The new program includes activities to develop fine motor skills, psychomotor exercises, experiential activities, and sensory workshops.
At the same time, the team took steps to integrate some formal educational services for children three years and older who are not enrolled in education services. This work is particularly benefiting the children attending the permanent Play Hub in the Associazione 21 Luglio headquarters. The integration of more formal services has proven to be an opportunity. While formal services are not always well-perceived, children and their parents or caregivers now know the Play Hubs and consider them safe and welcoming.
Fostering community connection
At Play Hubs, children have the opportunity to interact, play and spend quality time with other children and adults at a critical period in their lives. Parents and caregivers receive a similar benefit. They get to know other parents and share experiences. Parents are also able to rely on Play Hub staff for advice. For families, borrowing games, toys, and books fosters a sense of responsibility for their community. Through these various interactions, the Play Hubs and Toy Libraries help children and families feel more connected – right where they were already spending time, in the busy squares of Tor Bella Monaca in Rome.