Archive for the ‘Early Childhood Development’ Category

This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the bold spirit and vast achievements of Palestinian women and female refugees. Women don’t always have adequate support in their societies, but when they are given opportunities, they thrive and improve the lives of those around them.

Meet Fadwa, one Palestinian woman who’s making a big difference in her small West Bank town of Al Tireh. She’s one of 600 women to complete ANERA’s teacher training course. As a preschool teacher, she has an influence on children during the years that are most important to development. But beyond the impact she has on children, she’s a confident role model for other women in her society who have so much to give.

Watch: “The Most Important Thing I Can Offer is Self-Confidence”

In Gaza’s impoverished communities, schools rarely come equipped with necessities like libraries and science labs. So with fewer resources available, some teachers are getting creative in the classroom.

Take, for example, the children of Gaza’s YMCA preschool. They have turned their kitchen into a science lab. Through fun activities, they are learning concepts like weight, volume, color, relationships between objects, and the transformation of substances.

“Today we’re making fruit salad,” said teacher Ghada Hashwa. “Children are taking part in making healthy meals as part of an active learning initiative.”

Recently Ghada joined ANERA’s teacher training workshop, funded by Dubai Cares. She was one of 48 other teachers from nine preschools enrolled in the active learning program. The new method of teaching breaks the rigid routine of conventional learning.

Gaza preschools are now using active learning methods with the new renovations they received from ANERA.

A boy at the Gaza YMCA makes fruit salad to learn scientific concepts in a fun way.

Today’s activity at the YMCA uses the fun and delicious activity of making fruit salad. The first part of the session required students to identify different “mystery” fruits by reaching into a bag. Then they named the fruits and learned how to change their form—by making juice, or chopping them up into slices. Teacher Ghada ensures the safety of tools used for experimenting, as well as food cleanliness.

One student, Sarah, squeezed an orange through a juicer and poured it onto her healthy finished product, a fruit salad. “It’s like a rainbow,” she said giddily, jumping up and down.

Active Learning is an Essential Part of Early Childhood Education


Children learn about size, shape, weight and color in a fun and engaging course of active learning.

Through active learning projects, children learn life skills through practice, experimentation, trial and error. “Traditional education does not allow any of this,” said Ghada. “Children are passive learners and receivers in the conventional classroom.” During an activity, Ghada can observe the children’s interaction and how they handle different challenges. “The kids follow the recipe, and if they face any problems, they need to figure out how to resolve it on their own.”

When children participate in preparing food, they develop skills like language, science, math and art. Learning is enriched with the vibrant colors of fruit, and the healthy content of their meals.
“In the kitchen, the students use all of their senses to learn,” said another teacher, Najla El Jadba. “They won’t forget what they did because it will be carved into their minds.”

Gaza Preschools Renovation Allow for Active Learning

Children play at the renovated playground in Gaza preschools.

Renovations to the playground include soft new turf, colorful new equipment and shade from the sun.

Both children and teachers are motivated to learn in a rich, safe and beautiful environment. Unfortunately, they did not always have access to high quality facilities. Before ANERA rehabilitated the preschool, it was a grey and gloomy space. Now kids are inspired to learn and explore in their classrooms and playground, painted in vibrant colors.

The renovation took place as part of ANERA’s ongoing early childhood development program in Palestine. ANERA painted all the rooms in bright colors and made upgrades to the bathrooms. Cracks in the walls were filled in and a new child-size water fountain was installed. The outdoor play areas got new green turf and a sunroof to protect children from the scorching sun. New playground equipment was also provided.

The new playground is an oasis for Gaza preschoolers.

The new playground is an oasis for Gaza preschoolers.

“The old playground was unsafe, with old, decaying tiles for floors,” said the preschool director Mona Tarazi. “The unshaded play area was a struggle during winter and summer. The toilets leaked sewage.” Mona smiles describing the changes. “We need to offer children in Gaza a healthy beginning from a young age. How lovely to set them up for a brighter, healthy future.”

With funding from Dubai Cares, ANERA was able to transform nine preschools throughout Gaza. In addition, the project involved training 48 teachers on basic child rights and protection and distributing reading bags and other educational resources to optimize teacher competency. Full-scale school renovations included equipping the facilities with new furniture to create child friendly spaces that are conducive to learning.

Winter has brought a strong chill to the village of Al Sawarha, Gaza. At the local Atfal Mustaqbal preschool, children sniffle as their breath turns to steam in the cold air. Winter in Gaza is cold and wet, with heavy rains and wind coming in from the sea.

“The children have to walk for 30 minutes to reach the preschool,” said Om Ayman Sawarha, head of the preschool and a longtime resident of the village. “Families are too poor to provide transportation to school.”

Widespread poverty means that many children don’t even have to shoes to make the walk to school a little easier. The children consider themselves lucky if they have second-hand shoes from relatives or older siblings – even if they don’t fit.

“It’s tragic to see children walking in the cold with tattered shoes,” added Om Ayman. “Some have to share shoes with their brothers and sisters, no matter what their sizes are. But nothing is worse than the poor children that have to walk around barefoot.”

In the cold, wet, winter in Gaza, cousins Mohammed and Salem walked to school in sandals.

Cousins Mohamed and Salem love to play outside, but their yard fills with puddles in the cold, wet winter, and they only had tattered old sandals to protect their feet – until now!

A Happy Day at School: Boots for All

Since 2013, ANERA has delivered four shipments of TOMS shoes and boots throughout Gaza.

Cousins Mohamed and Salem Abu Khalil are two students at the Atfal Mustaqbal preschool. This morning began like any other weekday morning for the tiny pair. Through the windows of the poorly-lit preschool, their faces shone with curiosity. “There was good news to come,” smiled Om Ayman.

Both boys wore old sandals covered in wet mud. Their walk to school took them through orange groves left muddy from Gaza’s winter rains. When their teacher called their names, they jumped up together to get their new TOMS boots, which fit perfectly.

At noon, traces of sunlight warmed up the playground. The ecstatic preschoolers bounded into the play area to enjoy the sun and their new boots. The two cousins live together in the same family house. The unfinished house hosts almost 20 members of the extended family, as well as a backyard full of livestock. Without proper shoes, walking in the yard after a rainy night is a struggle. Now, the two cousins can run and skip with joy through the puddles.

Even during winter in Gaza, the boys sit on the bench outside.

Salem (left) and Mohamed (right). “We always find them on the wooden bench. They are the same age and they have their own secrets,” said Mohamed’s mother.

Mohamed and Salem love to sit on their backyard bench, where they share stories and tease each other. “We always find them on the wooden bench,” said Mohamed’s mother Wafaa. “They are the same age and they have their own secrets.”

Now they have their own pair of winter boots, too. “The quality of the boots is so high,” added Wafaa. “They are well-suited to the children of our village, who love to play outdoors”

The Abu Khalil Family Works Together

Like many others in this village who can barely eke out a living, the Abu Khalil family struggles to provide for their children. Most villagers depend on welfare assistance for goods like flour and rice. The boys’ grandfather uses two donkey carts to deliver these staple items to other villagers. They get paid a reasonable price for their work. “It’s a service to the community and it helps us under these difficult conditions,” said the grandfather.

This Gaza family uses a donkey cart to make deliveries and earn income.

Salem shows off the brightly decorated donkey cart that his family uses to make delivers – and make a modest living.

In his warm new boots, Salem jumped to show off the colorfully decorated donkey carts. Mohamed held his grandfather’s hand as his mother looked on, pleased that the children will not have cold or injured feet. “Tomorrow, I will be able to wave goodbye to the boys without worrying as they start their journey to school,” said Wafaa. “The warm and fur-lined boots ease my mind.”

Forget blackboards and desks, quizzes and calculators. Palestinian preschoolers have some new gadgets in the 150 ANERA-renovated preschools across Palestine: toys and games to make learning fun.

Through a holistic approach, ANERA’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) program has drastically changed the way teachers teach and children learn. Palestine preschools now have activity centers in which children can read stories, play puppet theater and practice hands-on science and art. They come complete with safe and child-friendly furnishings painted in bright, happy colors.

Puzzles and Paint Teach Palestine Preschoolers New Skills

The toys and games are locally produced by manufacturers in Gaza and the West Bank. Among them are musical instruments, puzzles, painting easels, card and memory games, dominoes, board games and more.

In the quiet corner, there is a small group of children working in pairs with building blocks. Meanwhile, another group is listening intently to a teacher narrating a lively children’s story. In the adjacent room, children play with water and sand, amused by the texture of wet sand and slowly grasping the concept of “empty” and “full.” Their classmates offer them warm tea and freshly-baked cake, all prepared in the toy kitchen unit with a little help from stuffed animals.

Toys like these are locally made in Palestine.

Young girls play with a pretend tea set at Al Auja preschool in one classroom. In another, children read in small groups.

Through active learning, children learn lessons in visual discrimination, eye-hand coordination, sorting and classification, mathematical logic, critical thinking and self expression. They also develop their motor skills, curiosity and character, and explore the world around them with all senses engaged.

Active Learning Replaces Rote Education

“You see troubled kids completely immersed in games, 100 percent focused on building and creating.”

Before ANERA implemented its early childhood framework at these preschools, teaching was often conventional, haphazard and rigid. Children did not get the chance for one-to-one learning with their teachers and peers, and were instead taught as a mass group.

In Al Auja, a deprived part of Jericho, children’s first encounter with these toys was chaotic. Head teacher Itaf Njoom recalls, “They would mix the puzzle pieces with letter games or numbers, not knowing how to play with them. You’d find them playing with blocks and pinning boards together, not realizing they were different games. This is when their learning journey began and our training as educators came into play.”

Children watch a puppet show in a Palestine preschool.

Children at Al Auja preschool are entranced by a puppet show.

Itaf has been a preschool teacher at the same school for over 16 years. She has seen many classrooms full of children that never get to see such enchanting toys and games at home. Poverty is rife and does not allow for toys and games. In addition, many parents don’t see the value of active learning with these fun tools.

“As a community, the concept of learning through play is not accepted,” said Itaf. “That’s another reason why Palestine preschools lack toys. Parents send their children to learn the alphabet and numbers, and they expect them to know how to write simple words and develop simple math skills. So the preschools would focus on that aspect, ignoring children’s innate need to play.”

Broken Old Toys and Furnishings Get Replaced

Before ANERA’s intervention, The Al Auja preschool was poorly furnished. Most of the games had missing pieces, and were worn out and unsafe to use. According to the teachers, the old toys had accumulated over the years through different charitable donations. But regardless, Itaf points out that the old toys were not used correctly.

“It was simply haphazard. We had no ultimate goal—we were just letting them play. Through training, we learned how to correctly engage the child with structure and purpose.”

In Palestine preschools, kids now play and learn in small groups.

Before the preschool embraced active play, kids mix up the toys and games, not knowing how to play with them properly.

Halfway through the school year, the kids at Al Auja now know each game and toy. They know exactly which toy they want to play with and how to play with it. They even put the toys away neatly when playtime is over.

“The kids are more calm and communicative, and less likely to resort to violence,” said Itaf. “The educational material has played a huge role in that. You see troubled kids completely immersed in games, 100 percent focused on building and creating. They are stimulated on all levels: their muscles, thought and imagination. All in just one game!”

A young Palestinian girl plays with a toy at Al Auja preschool.
Drawing is a part of early childhood development in Palestine preschools.
ANERA's holistic approach includes one-on-one time for teachers and students.
Colorful building blocks are a lot of fun for boys and girls!
Child-sized furniture is part of ANERA's plan for Palestine preschools.
Children read age-appropriate books at Palestine preschools.
New toys for the boys and girls in ANERA-renovated Palestine preschools.
A girl laughs at the puppet show in Al Auja preschool.

Children at Al Auja preschool are fully captivated by their toys and games. Teachers report they are calmer and more communicative.

Drawing and coloring gives students a way to express themselves and practice motor skills.

ANERA's holistic approach includes one-on-one time for teachers and students.

Colorful building blocks are a lot of fun for boys and girls!

Child-sized furniture holds the toys and games, which the children put back when they're done playing.

Reading age-appropriate books in small groups or one-on-one helps children develop literacy skills.

A boy plays with a colorful set of building toys.

A girl laughs in delight at the puppet theater– a new feature in the Al Auja preschool.

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During the 2014 war in Gaza, the Shejaiya neighborhood in the eastern part of Gaza City was heavily bombed. The war damaged hundreds of buildings, leaving thousands of Palestinians homeless. The few preschools in Shejaiya that existed prior to the war were entirely destroyed.

Early childhood development (ECD) is essential to the cognitive, social and emotional growth of children, particularly in conflict zones. That’s why it’s so important for children in Gaza to have access to quality preschools. Yet, two years after the 2014 war, the preschools in this neighborhood were still in ruins.

So in August 2016, ANERA completed the reconstruction of Shejaiya’s Young Stars preschool. With funds from Islamic Relief USA and the support of individual donors, ANERA built five classrooms, a kitchen, child-friendly facilities and a modern outdoor play area with a water fountain.

Now, some 100 children are enrolled in the brand new preschool. The kids learn in a safe and welcoming environment with new playground equipment, child-sized tables and chairs, reading corners and colorful curtains. ANERA also delivered toys, puzzles and books to the school. The preschool teachers are using these materials to engage children in active play. All six teachers at the school will also receive in-service teacher training and mentorship through ANERA’s ECD program.

Watch: Children Go Back to School in Shejaiya