What child doesn’t like to play doctor or teacher or fireman?
For Gaza preschool children at the Najah school in Khan Younis, taking on an imaginative adult role is part of their daily learning experience.
Young Asma Msabeh, dressed in a white doctor’s coat, holds her stethoscope and listens to her doll’s heartbeat. She looks quite serious as she plays doctor.
“Role play is a crucial part of preschool,” explains teacher trainer Ali Yacoub, “because it helps children explore different roles and situations as they play with items and tools that adults use in everyday life. And, it helps children learn about their community, their surrounding environment and different careers.”
Helping Children in Gaza Cope and Develop Holistically
Anera’s early childhood development (ECD) strategy includes role play corners in the classroom that offer different settings and scenarios for the children, from a carpentry shop and grocery store to kitchen, doctor’s office and more. Teachers and trainers underline that a successful role-play center should have a designated location inside the classroom whenever possible.
In the grocery store set-up, the teacher watches as the children learn about shapes and weights as they stack similar foods in the pretend store. They can also hone their math skills as they figure out the grocery bill.
Teachers say the role play gives preschoolers a sense of their social environment in a fun way. They use “pretend play” to help children build vocabularies, develop language skills, solve problems and put themselves in the shoes of another in various social situations. “Children need these opportunities to blend their skills and knowledge. Pretend play is an ideal way to do this,” explained teacher Abeer Shawaf.
“With all the pressures here in Gaza, finding a peaceful and fun space is critical. [The preschool] is colorful and the children can focus their energy on activities like art and music.” Preschool teacher Hiyam Abu Daqaa smiles. “Of course playtime is the children’s favorite time of the day.”
Teachers Learn to Create a Stimulating Environment
Early childhood development trainers like Ali Yacoub are introducing teachers to the importance of playtime as a learning tool too. “The training encourages a good exchange of experiences and an opportunity to expand and improve teaching skills. The training helps preschool teachers become more engaged and active in the classroom.”
With funding from Islamic Relief USA, Anera has expanded its ECD teacher training to 28 teachers at five preschools in Gaza. The teachers participated a month-long training on active learning, children rights and developmental psychology.
Ali Yacoub explains that helping teachers learn how to transform a preschool class into an active learning center can help children in their cognitive and physical development. “Energizing children through role play and other creative activities also helps children develop social skills, reduce depression and build self-confidence.” Hiyam says the children rotate through the different learning centers during the day so they don’t get bored with the traditional writing and reading lessons.
Anera’s ECD program is now reaching Al Najah in Khan Younis, Maise El Reem in Deir El Balah, Ghassan Kanafani in Jabalia, Ajyal El Tahreer in Khan Younis and Ghosn Al Zaytoun in Rafah. The project also includes renovation on the schools as well as equipping classrooms with proper child-appropriate furnishing and educational materials.