What children say about TOY for Inclusion in Slovakia

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The TOY for Inclusion Play Hub in Slovakia keeps receiving appraisals! Recently we reported about Thorbjørn Jagland, the Council of Europe Secretary General and other high level politicians who applauded the project. Today we are happy to share some cheerful quotes that children who attend the Play Hub have told us!

The TOY for Inclusion Play Hub in Spišský Hrhov (Slovakia) is placed in the local kindergarten and school and it’s visited every day by dozens of children.

This is what they say.

“I was amazed to see the colors of the room… We don’t play at home because we don’t have such modern and new toys. My father left us when I was a baby, so my mom takes care of me on her own. Last time before going home, Tatiana [a volunteer], told my mom we could take some toys with us at home. I could not simply believe that! We took a Lego set home and I spent long time constructing it until I fell asleep.” Zuzana, 8 years old.

“We come in and make ourselves comfortable. There is no day without Play Hub, I can’t wait to come again tomorrow!” Sonia, 6 years old.

What parents say

“A unique place for us Roma mothers. I have never seen a place where so many different children play together like in our Play Hub.” Monika, mother of 4 children.

“I have never felt so welcome and respected before. My boys are happy to play with other children of the village and nobody treats them any different. They even have the chance to use books and toys I could not afford. What a perfect place!” Anna Dirdova, Roma mother of six children.

Learn more about the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs here.

TOY for Inclusion wins LLLAwards 2018 for best learning environment

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We are delighted to announce that our project TOY for Inclusion will receive the Lifelong Learning Awards 2018 next Monday, December 3rd!  The prize is awarded by the Lifelong Learning Platform to initiatives that set up creative and inclusive practices.

This year’s edition will focus on the LLLPlatform’s theme of the year, “Lifelong Learning Culture: A partnership for rethinking education”.

The jury has picked 3 winners, one for each of the three categories. TOY for Inclusion has received the highest score in the category ‘Learning Environments’. The prize was assigned by an exceptional jury.

We share the pride and the joy with our international partners the International Step-by-Step Association (ISSA) and the International Child Development Initiatives (ICDI); and with seven members of REYN: Educational Research Institute – ERI (Slovenia), Open Academy Step by Step – OASS (Croatia), Centre for Education Initiatives – CEI (Latvia), Wide Open School – WOS (Slovakia), Centre for Innovation in the Early Years – VBJK (Belgium), Associazione 21 Luglio (Italy) and Partners Hungary Foundation.

For more, follow the hashtag #toy4inclusion or the REYN Twitter and Facebook.

TOY for Inclusion Phase II to focus on Romani and migrant

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Great news! TOY for Inclusion has received extra funding that will allow the opening of more Play Hubs in 2019-2021.

The new grant awarded by the European Commission will enlarge the group of beneficiaries to include migrant and hard to reach children too.

Thanks to the new funding, the project will open one new Play Hub in each participant country and will expand to Turkey.

“We are delighted to hear that TOY for Inclusion’s Play Hubs can continue to bring services to many children and families of disadvantaged communities. These Play Hubs provide much needed opportunities for families to meet, for children and adults to play together and for parents to receive expert advice on how to nurture child development”, says Mathijs Euwema, Director of International Child Development Initiatives (ICDI) which coordinates the project.

The Play Hubs are inclusive spaces where children and families from different backgrounds are encouraged to play and learn: while children are allowed to borrow toys, information about childrearing, health, early learning and development is passed on informally to (grand)parents.

“I have never felt so welcomed and respected before”, said Ana Dirdova, Romani mother of six and Play Hub participant in Spišský Hrhov, Slovakia.

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.

Since their opening in early 2018, the Play Hubs have been applauded by children, families and public authorities.

The results in 2018

  • About 3200 children have participated to the Play Hub activities. An estimated 35% of children were from Roma origin.
  • About 80 workshops and info-sessions were held for Roma and non-Roma adults: including parenting support, intergenerational activities, hand-craft and toy-making workshops, info-sessions for parents in cooperation with other community services.
  • Roughly 25% of workshop leaders were Roma.

Read more about TOY for Inclusion here.

A full house for the TOY for Inclusion international event!

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TOY for Inclusion will have a full house at the international event on November 19th! The event in Ghent, Belgium, will celebrate the project amazing success and will share the knowledge acquired in the past two years.

Since its launch in 2017, TOY for Inclusion has opened eight Play Hubs in seven European countries: one in Belgium, Croatia, Latvia, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and two in Italy.

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

By enhancing social cohesion and by supporting the parents, the project has been successful in fostering social inclusion for Romani young children and families.

After one year of preparations, the doors of the Play Hubs opened (in early 2018). Since then, they have been providing opportunities for children and adults, Roma and non-Roma, to integrate and develop. At the event, you will be able to hear their experiences directly from them.

The mid-term results are encouraging (first half of 2018)!

  • 1700 children participated to the Play Hub activities.
  • 30% of children were from Roma origin, according to estimations.
  • 77 workshops and info-sessions were held for Roma and non-Roma adults: including parenting support, intergenerational activities, hand-craft and toy-making workshops, info-sessions for parents in cooperation with other community services.
  • 10% of workshop leaders were Roma.

The tools and the resources that are at the core of this success will be available at the event;  read more about TOY for Inclusion.

Where: Vredehuis, Sint-Margrietstraat 9, Ghent, Belgium.

When: November, 19th 2018.

Consult the program here.

TOY for Inclusion Play Hub in Italy: a gateway to pre-school for Nerima

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An estimated 50% of Romani children don’t go to school in Europe.  Often they are excluded or feel unwelcome by their non-Roma peers and teachers. In other cases they simply live fare away from services.  TOY for Inclusion is becoming the gateway to school and kindergarten for many Romani children. This is the story of a 5 year old Romani girl called Nerima; she was looking for a safe play space and found a pre-school.

If you visit the TOY for Inclusion Play Hub in Mazara del Vallo (Italy), you will perceive a certain familiar atmosphere. People feel comfortable and families participate in activities together. This is what Nerima was looking for when she joined.

At the beginning her family wouldn’t let her alone with other children. Nerima has a disability and her family feared that the other children might not welcome her. Her family decided that it was important for her to attend but always during less busy times and accompanied by an adult.

Week after week, month after month, Nerima became familiar with the Play Hub. She enjoyed using the toys, she became more confident and gave other children the possibility to play with her.

A safe place

Eventually her family realized that the Play Hub was not something to be afraid of, but rather a place that supported their daughter’s development. It was a safe place.

There, Nerima had the possibility to stay with other children and build relationships autonomously. Her family understood the importance of this: the importance of living an educational and social place, the importance of not letting fear hamper their child’s development.

Thanks to this experience, Nerima’s family decided to register her to pre-school, giving her the chance to integrate and to develop to the fullest.

TOY for Inclusion’s mission is to foster integration of Romani children by giving them access to community-based services. We are thrilled to meet families like Nerima’s, who recognize the importance of learning and playing.

Mazara del Vallo hosts one of the two Play Hubs in Italy, the other one is located in Rome. A few months away from the opening, the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs are becoming the gateway to school and kindergarten, and we are proud of that!

Slovakia: Thorbjørn Jagland applauds the TOY for Inclusion Play Hub

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Last week, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland visited our Play Hub in Spišský Hrhov (Slovakia) and complimented the staff about the initiative. He hasn’t been the first one though. Since its opening, the Play Hub has been pointed at as an example of integration by national and local authorities

“Your project is the best example of how to include Roma children at an early age”, said Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe to the coordinator of the TOY for Inclusion Play Hub, Peter Strážik.

The local staff and the volunteers report that Mr Jagland was very pleased with the initiative and played a few minutes with the children.

The Play Hub is situated in the kindergarten and school of the village. Since the opening the initiative has been applauded by the Slovakian authorities too.

“The Play Hub in Spišský Hrhov means a world of opportunities to the kids of Roma communities. Fifteen years ago such scenario had been just a wish”, said Vladimíra Ledecká, of the Office of the President of the Slovak Republic.

“We should have had this long ago; it so simple, rare and unique! A real place to bring all kids together. I know that this Play Hub is a good example to other municipalities that struggle to fight prejudices against Roma”, echoed Dr. Vladimír Ledecký, Mayor of Spišský Hrhov.

The TOY for Inclusion Play Hub has been created mostly thanks to the cooperation between the local community, the municipality and some civil society organizations both national and international. With a relatively small budget provided by the European Union and with the big support given by the local school, the (grand)parents and the many volunteers.

Do you want to create your own Play Hub? Write to us at




TOY for Inclusion: Roma and non-Roma children now play together

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“I am happy that my children don’t have to stay in the street”, a Roma mother says.

In Ghent (Belgium), TOY for Inclusion has an outreach program that involves Roma families and children with activities around the city. Thanks to their work, practitioners have managed to gain the trust of families, and Roma and non-Roma children now play together.

‘I am happy that my children can come here. That they have a place where to play. I am happy that they don’t have to stay in the street the whole time’, says a Roma mother from Ghent. She prefers to remain anonymous to protect her privacy.

TOY for Inclusion partner, the Centre for Innovation in the Early Years (VBJK) works with VZW Jong and VZW Rode Lotus in areas with a high concentration of Roma families. VZW Jong and VZW Rode Lotus are two civil society organizations with the mission to strengthen community-based services at the local level.

A practitioner says

“Children are children and parents are parents. Parents just want the same things for their children all around the world. They want them to feel good. It is important to focus on this ‘simple’ concept when organizing activities for children. And we should know that working with children means also involving families and take into account their wellbeing”, says Gwen Pannecoucke, practitioner at VZW Jong.

In Ghent, instead of having one fixed location where to play, TOY for Inclusion is adopting an outreach program in order to involve Roma families around the city. Children are offered different activities: they cook together, they swim, they eat and play together, all things that wouldn’t happen without the specific attention towards inclusion that TOY for Inclusion brought.

Integration works!

Practitioners report to be positively surprised by the growing number of friendships they saw developing among children, especially children with different origins: at the beginning, children were playing much in separated ‘ethnic’ groups. Through the development of TOY for Inclusion, they have been playing all together and made new friends.