TOY For Inclusion Conversations: Play Hub Coordinators From Croatia

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 Monika and Refika, two Local Action Team (LAT) Coordinators, want you to know about their work.

Interview with Monika and Refika

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

IVA: Hello, everyone, my name is Iva, and I work at the Open Academy Step by Step.

Today I will interview our LAT coordinators from two Play Hubs in Croatia, Monika Horvat, the Play Hub coordinator in Orehovica, and Refika Omerćehaić, the LAT coordinator of the Play Hub in Sisak. I will ask a question – first Monica will answer it, and then Refika, and in this way, they will share their experience of working in Play Hub. So, let’s start with the questions. The first question is:

What do you think that makes the TOY for Inclusion approach so unique and different from other initiatives aimed at children and their families?

MONIKA: The “TOY for Inclusion” approach is different because it is focused on the entire community, with the child at the center. Our LAT includes people of all ages; together, we design and run our Play Hub. We are guided by our intention and aim to make it interesting for children.

REFIKA: I will add to what my colleague said, the Play Hub and the TOY library are available and adapted to all ages of children, all toys are didactic, and there are a variety of toys available to children. The membership is free. The Play Hub includes children from vulnerable groups, different age groups, different backgrounds, and opportunities. The Play Hub provides early childhood services in the community and empowers parents through educational topics.

IVA: Thank you! The second question is – we know that flexibility is one of the most important features of the TOY for Inclusion approach. Can you explain how the Play Hub adapted to the conditions of the pandemic?

MONIKA: During the lockdown, our Play Hub was closed, but the cooperation continued through social networks and the Zoom application. I designed and recorded various videos in which I encouraged parents to socialize and play with their children. I tried to make all materials that I used for these videos easily accessible and affordable, things that are available in their homes. We also launched a YouTube channel where everyone can watch my videos and make some new toys based on them.

REFIKA: Our Play Hub operated in the same way; the children were given tasks on the Play Hub Facebook page. The tasks were creative, interesting, and adapted to the conditions at home so that children could do them independently or with their parents.

IVA: Can you give an example of a situation, reaction, or comment of a child or family who visits your Play Hub, that has affected you, or the reaction that you remember in particular?

MONIKA: I have to admit that what affects me are the children’s smiles when they come in and tears when they leave. It is something that happens almost every day. Little Rea always cries, and they always have to convince her to go home. I was very impressed by the fathers who baked tons of pancakes on two or three occasions and brought them to the Play Hub, they really put in the effort.

REFIKA: I remember the statements of two children and one parent. One boy said “I feel safe, relaxed, and accepted here”, and another child said the Play Hub is the place of his dreams because he can play there all the time. One father said that the Play Hub is the only place where he can spend quality time with his child because he is always too busy at home.

IVA: Very nice, thank you! The fourth question is to list two things you would like to inform our policymakers about.

MONIKA: Every community should have a place like this, and every child should play in a space like this. Invest in children because this is how you invest in the future. Simple as that!

REFIKA: I will follow up on Monica’s words again and say that what needs to be provided are the resources needed for the Play Hub. We need resources for external collaborators that we invite for workshops, resources for new toys and consumables, and resources for the people who maintain the Play Hub space.

IVA: Thank you! And the last question is to describe in a few words what makes you proud as a Local Action Coordinator.

MONIKA: I am very proud because I run such a wonderful place. I can contribute to children and their development, especially children from vulnerable groups. Namely, I have been working in this environment for more than ten years and I am aware that very few children attend local kindergarten. The Play Hub is an ideal place for us to provide them with the possibilities that all children should have, but unfortunately do not have.

REFIKA: I am proud of the great interest of parents, the local community, and the school where the Play Hub is located. By working at the Play Hub, we, the educators, also experienced changes. We have become more competent, more sensitive, and more ambitious.

IVA: Thank you so much, you can certainly be proud of what you do, I hope your wishes will become a reality, and I am almost certain that we will have many more Play Hubs because all children deserve it. Thank you, Monika and Refika, and I hope we will still spend time together in this way.