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TOY for Inclusion Conversations: Play Hub Coordinators from Slovakia

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers and activities continue to occur in online spaces, TOY for Inclusion is taking advantage of this movement online to showcase some of the most influential and crucial voices of the TOY for Inclusion project.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve shared updates on the work of partners involved in the project. We’ve also highlighted insights from municipalities about the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs’ unparalleled importance in communities.

Now, we’re handing the microphone to those who are working in the Play Hubs. Listen to hear what Peter and Štefánia, two Local Action Team (LAT) Coordinators in Slovakia, want you to know about their work.

Interview with Peter Strážik

Country: Slovakia
Job title: Primary School Headmaster
Years working as LAT coordinator: 5 years

Listen to the audio in Slovakian or read the interview in English below.

Q: What do you think makes the TOY for Inclusion approach unique or different from other initiatives for young children and their families?
A: This approach offers new opportunities to work with families, especially with children from excluded communities in Slovakia. The TOY Play Hub philosophy provides a system based on volunteering, welcomes the participation of all ages, and focuses primarily on the child’s development through play.

Q: We know that one of the most important features of the TOY for Inclusion approach is the flexibility, can you explain how your Play Hub adapted during the pandemic?
A: It is a really challenging period for the organization actors, but especially for families with children. We try to be versatile; we support leaflets and information, give out disinfectants, facemasks, and help children with homework. Also, following the current measures, we still carry out activities in smaller groups.

Q: Can you tell us about one reaction, feedback or comment from a family or child attending your Play Hub that had an impact on you personally, or that ‘touched your heart’?
A: There are many such situations, but one reaction of a Roma mother was amusing and profound at the same time: “If the Play Hub is always there, we will have a lot of children because we have a place to go with them.”

Q: What are two things you want policy makers to know about TOY for Inclusion?
A: They should come and see the sophisticated system and strategy, how we operate, and the level of interest in our activity in our community. Secondly, as the elementary school headmaster, they should ask me about how better-prepared children are for the first year of school, thanks to the Play Hub.

Q: Can you share in a few words what makes you proud to be a Local Action Team coordinator/Play Hub Assistant?
A: I am happy to see dozens of children and parents playing together, without prejudice, even though they are from different backgrounds. We are a unique example of good practice for the whole of Slovakia.

Interview with Štefánia Pastoreková

Listen to the audio in Slovakian or read the interview in English below.

Country: Slovakia
Job title: Pre-school teacher
Years working as LAT coordinator: 2 years

Q: What do you think makes the TOY for Inclusion approach unique or different from other initiatives for young children and their families?
A: It is something new and unknown in our region. At the same time, it is a functional mechanism compared to dozens of projects that have not always met their goal and were not sustainable.

Q: We know that one of the most important features of the TOY for Inclusion approach is the flexibility, can you explain how your Play Hub adapted during the pandemic?
A: If we did not have a Play Hub in this community, the only source of information would be the media and doctors. I feel that we replace the state’s role, but we are happy to help these families in need in the form of visits, leaflets, or by offering free disinfectants.

Q: Can you tell us about one reaction, feedback or comment from a family or child attending your Play Hub that had an impact on you personally, or that ‘touched your heart’?
A: Young parents of three children who visit us regularly asked us if we could open a new Play Hub in the community where their family lives because they think it would help them.

Q: What are two things you want policy makers to know about TOY for Inclusion?
A: First of all, it is about flexibility. People from ages 0 to 90 visit us, and we have prepared the place and activities for everyone. Next, the way we work is meaningful but not financially demanding, so Play Hubs should be present in every community.

Q: Can you share in a few words what makes you proud to be a Local Action Team coordinator/Play Hub Assistant?
A: I can really be proud. I have gained new knowledge through great training, and I see amazing feedback from the most vulnerable.

TOY For Inclusion Conversations: Play Hub Coordinator From the Netherlands

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers and activities continue to occur in online spaces, TOY for Inclusion is taking advantage of this movement online to showcase some of the most influential and crucial voices of the TOY for Inclusion project.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve shared updates on the work of partners involved in the project. We’ve also highlighted insights from municipalities about the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs’ unparalleled importance in communities.

Now, we’re handing the microphone to those who are working in the Play Hubs. Listen to hear what Esther, a Local Action Team (LAT) Coordinator in the Netherlands, wants you to know about her work.

Interview with Esther Postma

Listen to the audio in Dutch or read the transcripts in English below.

Role in TOY for Inclusion: 
Local Action Team Coordinator

Where: 
the Netherlands

Job title: 
Family Coach

Years as LAT Coordinator: 
1 year

Q: What do you think makes the TOY for Inclusion approach unique or different from other initiatives for young children and their families?

A: First, let me say we have an amazing team. But what makes the difference is that we are working with Roma “bridge figures” (individuals who help us connect with the community).

Kali and Antonio (“bridge figures”) generally know how to win the Roma community’s trust. They help us introduce the various activities that we offer in our Play Hub in an accessible way. The activities are mainly aimed at developing self-confidence, identity, or talents. We also notice that Roma in the community enjoy coming to the TOY Play Hub and that they are enthusiastic about the range of different activities that we offer. We also notice that the mutual trust between the authorities and service providers and the Roma community is improving. Everyone can be themselves and we learn from each other.

Q: We know that one of the most important features of the TOY for Inclusion approach is the flexibility, can you explain how your Play Hub adapted during the pandemic?

A: It was indeed a difficult time. We had just started with our Play Hub and then we had to close down for three months. We had regular contact digitally with our team. We have used this period to expand and strengthen our team and discuss our goals. Furthermore, Kali and her children put together small packages with toys, books, and candy and brought these to about 50 children at their homes. The families were very enthusiastic, and we received happy reactions.

Q: Can you tell us about one reaction, feedback or comment from a family or child attending your Play Hub that had an impact on you personally, or that ‘touched your heart’? 

A: Certainly. One child counted on his fingers when he could come back to the TOY Play Hub. Many children are impressed that the TOY Play Hub and the activities are a free service, as they are used to the fact that they or their parents usually pay for activities or clubs. Mothers say: “Finally, I can spend some time on myself,” or, “I have never thought about questions who I am, what I want or what I want to achieve in life.” These were some of the comments from mothers during a workshop we held.

Q: What are two things you want policy makers to know about TOY for Inclusion?

A: The target group is very difficult to reach. That makes the bridge figures the key to the success of our TOY Play Hub. In addition, we have the freedom to modify our work as we see fit. I think this is positive because we are able to adapt the project and services to the needs of children and parents that we are working with.

I want to highlight it takes a few months before the project can be set up in the right way for a community. It would have been convenient if we had more clarity in advance about possible follow-up financing. Seeking close cooperation with the local municipality in advance may offer a solution, both in terms of follow-up financing options and working on joint objectives.

Q: Can you share in a few words what makes you proud to be a Local Action Team coordinator/Play Hub Assistant? 

A: It allows me to set up something nice and positive for people in the community that are often shown in a negative light. It enables me to work with a very nice team. 

We also have the freedom to design our own project. We can adapt it to the needs of children and families. Each week I see happy children and parents that learned something new. And each week is a challenge to make the right choices and find partners to make it a success. We achieve small but beautiful results, and I am very proud of that.

Thank you, Esther Postma, for sharing your experiences with the TOY Play Hub in Enschede. Esther was interviewed by Iara de Witte.

TOY for Inclusion Conversations: Play Hub Coordinator from Turkey

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers and activities continue to occur in online spaces, TOY for Inclusion is taking advantage of this movement online to showcase some of the most influential and crucial voices of the TOY for Inclusion project.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve shared updates on the work of partners involved in the project. We’ve also highlighted insights from municipalities about the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs’ unparalleled importance in communities.

Now, we’re handing the microphone to those who are working in the Play Hubs. Listen to hear what Bilgehan, a Local Action Team (LAT) Coordinator in Turkey, wants you to know about his work.

Interview with Bilgehan Çıray

Role in TOY for Inclusion: LAT Coordinator
Where: Turkey
Job title: LAT Coordinator
Years as LAT Coordinator:
Almost 1 year

Q: What do you think makes the TOY for Inclusion approach unique or different from other initiatives for young children and their families?
A: The important thing here is to reach disadvantaged children. Families who already have a certain income level can offer their children the necessary opportunities. However, disadvantaged families cannot always provide their children with age-appropriate materials, as they do not have access to the same options. With the TOY for Inclusion project, we offer a playground to children who might not have access otherwise. We aim to contribute to their social and cognitive development. Families are aware of this opportunity and support them as much as possible.

Q: We know that one of the most important features of the TOY for Inclusion approach is flexibility. Can you explain how your Play Hub adapted during the pandemic?
A: As many know, during the pandemic, we are not able to gather together. However, children have to be able to be children. So, we sat down with our team and evaluated what we could do under these circumstances. We came up with the idea of delivering toys to children, keeping safety measures in mind. We disinfected the toys and brought them to the children so that they could play in their homes. After some time, we disinfected toys and traded them out for new ones. This way, children could play with different toys.

Q: Can you tell us about one reaction, feedback or comment from a family or child attending your Play Hub that had an impact on you personally or that ‘touched your heart’? 
A: We focus on disadvantaged children. These children may not have as much access to playgrounds as their peers. One day I went to check on the playground, and I saw a four-year-old boy. He was pushing a toy truck across the garden. For a moment, the boy looked up and gave me a warm smile. That smile was like the price of all my hard work.

Q: What are two things you want policy makers to know about TOY for Inclusion?
A: Many policy makers have a lot to say about children but do not listen to preschool teachers or child development professionals, which is a problem. For more children to access playgrounds, local policy makers need to act.

Q: Can you share in a few words what makes you proud to be a Local Action Team coordinator/Play Hub Assistant? 
A: In our country, and in other countries, there are many spaces and opportunities for adults to socialize. However, this is not the case for children, especially when mothers and fathers are working. Often, children are placed in the background. We offer children, especially disadvantaged children, the opportunity to improve their social and cognitive skills in an important period of their lives. This is our greatest source of pride.

TOY for Inclusion brings a mobile Play Hub to Rome

Listen to this article

It’s Monday morning and soon the Ex Fienile will be buzzing with families coming to play in their mobile Play Hub. But for the families, the experience will be much more than play.

Since the end of September 2020, this mobile Play Hub is open two days a week in the Ex Fienile Play Hub’s garden. It is offering an alternative to indoor activities, providing children and families with an opportunity to meet in a safe space during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mobile Play Hub is full of toys for various age groups. During opening hours, the staff does activities with children and their parents. Activities promote cognitive and relational skills. Most importantly, they support inclusion and integration by connecting families from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Every Monday morning at the Ex Fienile Play Hub, a group of parents attends an Italian language course while their children play in the nearby mobile Play Hub. Thanks to this arrangement, their children can play independently — their parents always within view.

Once a month, the language course hosts a special session. During this time, parents share their parenting experiences with their own unique cultural and educational perspectives. Tor Vergata University organizes this session, and Anthropology professor Piero Vereni facilitates it.

On Wednesday mornings, items for babies are distributed in personalised packages. During this time, parents can play alongside their children. They also have the chance to socialize and receive parenting tips in a more informal environment.

The mobile Play Hub is becoming an essential meeting point for parents of children who do not go to school. Many mothers say that the Play Hub is important to them because it is the only opportunity for their children to meet and play with other children in a safe place, supported by professional educators.

Children from ages five months to three years old attend this Play Hub. They live in a vulnerable socio-economic context. Those working at the Play Hub aim to develop strong relationships with families and to use the Play Hub as a bridge to formal early childhood educational services.

The beneficiaries are pleased to participate in activities and have a safe space to meet each other after a lengthy lockdown period. In this unstable period, parents often worry about the future and look to educators for support. That is part of what make this space so meaningful, beneficiaries and staff are proactively building a community of support together.

Recently, a mother attending the mobile Play Hub shared, “my baby never wants to go home because she enjoys playing with other children! At home, she plays by herself”.

The mobile Play Hub will move around the neighbourhood as soon as measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are lifted. For now, it remains in the Ex Fienile Play Hub’s garden.

Stay tuned for information on an upcoming online event, which will launch the TOY for Inclusion Virtual Pop-Up Museum, present insights into bringing a Play Hub to your community, and provide a glimpse at the mobile Play Hub!

TOY For Inclusion Conversations: Play Hub Coordinators From Slovenia

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers and activities continue to occur in online spaces, TOY for Inclusion is taking advantage of this movement online to showcase some of the most influential and crucial voices of the TOY for Inclusion project.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve shared updates on the work of partners involved in the project. We’ve also highlighted insights from municipalities about the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs’ unparalleled importance in communities.

Now, we’re handing the microphone to those who are working in the Play Hubs. Listen to hear what Marija and Tina, two Local Action Team (LAT) Coordinators want you to know about their work.

Listen to the audio in Slovenian or read the transcripts in English below.

Interview with Marija

Role in TOY for Inclusion: 
LAT Coordinator

Where: 
Slovenia

Job title: 
Preschool Teacher

Years as LAT Coordinator: 
3 years

Q: What do you think makes the TOY for Inclusion approach unique or different from other initiatives for young children and their families?

A: TOY for Inclusion is special and distinguishes itself from other projects, especially regarding its openness and tendency towards cooperation. We follow specific guidelines and concepts, but the whole Local Action Team (LAT) also has the freedom to create the service according to local needs. Cooperation is the key factor: cooperation of the LAT, volunteers, institutions, and, of course, families.

Q: We know that one of the most important features of the TOY for Inclusion approach is flexibility. Can you explain how your Play Hub adapted during the pandemic?

A: The City Library of Murska Sobota was closed during the pandemic, as it is a public institution. Therefore, the Play Hub had to close its doors. During these times, we remained in close contact with families through other channels and organized virtual workshops on the Facebook page of our Play Hub.

Q: Can you tell us about one reaction, feedback, or comment from a family or child attending your Play Hub that had an impact on you personally or that ‘touched your heart’?

A: There is a family of three that attends the Play Hub. The mother is from the community, and the father comes from Africa. They regularly come with their 3-year old daughter, who does not go to preschool. The mother told me how they perceive the Play Hub as a place where their daughter is accepted without any prejudices. Besides, it offers her the opportunity to meet and play with her peers.

Q: What are two things you want policy makers to know about TOY for Inclusion?

A: I would emphasize that there is respect for diversity. The Play Hub is a place without prejudices and a place where children and their parents can spend quality time together.

Q: Can you share in a few words what makes you proud to be a Local Action Team coordinator?

A: I am proud to be a part of this team because it means I am a part of a successful story, which addresses the needs of families, especially those who need some additional motivation, development, and help to succeed.

Interview with Tina

Role in TOY for Inclusion: 
LAT Coordinator

Where: 
Slovenia

Job title: 
Preschool Teacher

Years as LAT Coordinator: 
1.5 years

Q: What do you think makes the TOY for Inclusion approach unique or different from other initiatives for young children and their families?

A: That it is designed for children and parents. The child is in focus, but at the same time, it does not exclude parents and their time together.

Q: We know that one of the most important features of the TOY for Inclusion approach is flexibility. Can you explain how your Play Hub adapted during the pandemic?

A: During the quarantine, when we needed to close the Play Hub, we connected with members and others through our Facebook page. We still do not operate as we did before the pandemic. Families are allowed to visit us individually and borrow toys, but we must consider all restrictions.

Q: Can you tell us about one reaction, feedback, or comment from a family or child attending your Play Hub that had an impact on you personally or that ‘touched your heart’?

A: I told one story several times. One of the parents told us how pleased she is that the Play Hub provides an opportunity to enjoy time with her children without being engaged in other chores or duties. And just recently, one mother complained to me, “Tina, this is not fun anymore. When everything was still normal, we could mingle, chat, and laugh with others.” She was referring to the fact that there is less opportunity to gather with the measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Parents miss workshops, where they could be with other families.

Q: What are two things you want policy makers to know about TOY for Inclusion?

A: People are able to meet other families and go to workshops, which are always well attended. Besides, we offer high-quality services, which is a means of connecting people from different professions, countries, generations, social statuses and so on.

Q: Can you share in a few words what makes you proud to be a Local Action Team coordinator?

A: It is pleasing to see that the locals accepted the Play Hub with open arms and enjoy coming back. With time we established trust with each other, and people are happy to meet us every Wednesday.

Marija and Tina were interviewed by Mateja Mlinar, a researcher at the Educational Research Institute.

Scaling up TOY for Inclusion: what to expect next

What is happening next with TOY for Inclusion? Currently we are preparing the launch of more Play Hubs in 2020. At the end of this year a European event will showcase the stories of children and families.

The TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs prepare children at risk of exclusion for kindergarten and school. Over the past two years, the project has created eight Play Hubs for young children in seven EU countries: one in Belgium, Croatia, Latvia, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and two in Italy. TOY for Inclusion has been an award winning international success for its services to thousands of children and families.

While many are enjoying the hot summer we have been busy with looking for 8 new Play Hub locations, including one in Turkey and one in the Netherlands. They will all open in early 2020.

What are the Play Hubs?

They support the early childhood development of Romani, migrant and vulnerable children to foster their integration in schools and preschools. Each Play Hub is coordinated by a practitioner. Read more here.

Advocacy plans

In addition, the advocacy will play a key role in this new phase. We are preparing several campaign actions to advise EU and local policy makers on how non-formal educational activities in early childhood policies can foster inclusion. A European event at the end of 2019 will showcase the stories of children and families.

Stay tuned as more news will follow!

TOY for Inclusion, an international success

It’s four thousand the total number of children involved in the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs throughout Europe in 2018. One third of them being from Romani origin. An unexpected success supported by local communities.

In January 2018, when the Play Hubs were about to be launched, these numbers would have been unthinkable by many.

About 2,400 parents and grandparents participated in the 250 activities organized by over four hundred practitioners, nearly 20% being of Roma origin. Access all the numbers here.

We started in eight towns and villages where the segregation of Romani children in school and of families in many aspects of their life is a confronting issue.

Thanks to the voluntary work of local communities and professionals, the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs became the gateway to kindergarten and school for many Romani children.

Along the way, TOY for Inclusion has received encouraging words of appreciation from parents, children and political leaders. We shall not forget the words of Anna Dirdova, Roma mother of six children who said “I have never felt so welcome and respected before.” And neither those of the Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland, who in Slovakia told us, “your project is the best example of how to include Roma children at an early age”.

At the end of 2018 we were delighted to receive the Lifelong Learning Awards in the category ‘Best Learning Environment’.

This success gave us a strong new push to do more. In 2019, TOY for Inclusion will create more Play Hubs in seven countries and will expand to Turkey. Stay tuned!

Disclaimer: our data about Roma are based on estimations; TOY for Inclusion does not collect information based on the ethnic origin of participants.