learning through play
As the world grapples with COVID-19, countless indirect consequences and equally urgent issues have gone unnoticed amid the panic and chaos of the pandemic. Although these other aspects of quality of life are not as attention-grabbing as a death count or an infection total, they are still important to recognize. COVID-19 significantly impacts the education of children across the globe, disproportionately affecting underprivileged children. LEGO encourages learning through play to “[empower] children to become creative, engaged, lifelong learners,” especially amid global challenges.

Pandemic-Induced School Closures

UNESCO estimates that, at the peak of the pandemic in March 2020, more than 180 countries imposed nationwide school closures, impacting 87% of the global student population. These closures occurred suddenly, and without adequate funding and infrastructure to transition to different forms of learning while still preserving quality, education systems in low-income nations faced significant challenges.

Even before the pandemic hit, in 2018, UNESCO reported roughly “258 million children and youth” out of school. In 2019, a UNHCR report indicated that 3.7 million refugee children were out of school globally. The World Bank reports that just “63% of refugee children are enrolled in primary school” in comparison “to 91% globally.” Furthermore, just “24% of refugee adolescents are enrolled in secondary schools compared to 84% globally.” In addition, a mere “3% of refugee youth have access to higher education compared to 37% globally.”

Education as a Pathway out of Poverty

For people suffering poverty and crises beyond their control, education is key. Capabilities such as literacy, basic arithmetic skills and writing proficiency serve as stepping stones to success. These skills grant impoverished people access to higher-paying, skilled jobs, creating a pathway out of poverty. The Global Partnership for Education estimates that “171 million people could be lifted out of extreme poverty” if all children had basic reading proficiencies. The way to effectively, efficiently and permanently eliminate poverty is by investing in children’s education.

The LEGO Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the LEGOs brand, is stepping up to combat barriers to education. A nation’s most valuable resources are its people, and therefore, there exists a distinct link between a country’s education system and the general economic and social well-being of the nation’s citizens. Recognizing the far-reaching effects of education and the importance of play in learning, LEGO Foundation began incorporating the concept of learning through play to enrich education systems, mindsets and resources throughout the world.

Learning Through Play

Research finds that “learning through play supports the development of early literacy and numeracy skills in an integrated approach, while also cultivating children’s social, emotional, physical and creative skills.” Studies also find that many traditional forms of education, involving more creatively restricted, socially inflexible and generally unenjoyable training and subsequent assessment, fail to optimally develop and teach children.

However, simply accusing existing education systems of overly didactic and stiflingly structured teaching methods is not enough to encourage change, especially in areas where resources are scarce and change is too expensive. Considering the research of many scientists, engineers, educators, creatives and experts, the LEGO team came together to create engaging play-full activities.

LEGO’s Let’s Build Together initiative is an online experience with games and constructive education activities developed to stimulate development through play. For children and classrooms unable to access this content online, the LEGO Foundation donates Play Boxes to organizations caring for vulnerable children. The boxes promote learning through play with a “variety of elements which are valuable as teaching and learning tools in any curriculum, from early childhood to adulthood.”

Partnering with UNICEF

Beginning in 2015, LEGO chose to partner with UNICEF to support education through play, with a special focus on children in impoverished nations. In 2020, the LEGO Foundation provided $28 million worth of funding to UNICEF to support the education of children, for instance, by supplying LEGO Play Boxes to countries such as “Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey.” In Rwanda and South Africa, teacher training curriculums now incorporate learning through play.

Through research, action and play, LEGO has found ways to ensure children receive an education, regardless of their economic and social backgrounds. In the face of the effects of COVID-19 and other humanitarian crises, it is important to prioritize children’s education, recognizing that education provides a pathway out of poverty.

– John J. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Toys for ChildrenFor kids of all ages, making a list of toy requests for Santa is one of the most exciting times of the year. Yet for children living in the world’s poorest regions, there is no Santa, presents or toys. UNICEF estimates that across the world, nearly one billion children live in multidimensional poverty. That equates to 13% of the global population. During the holiday season, three organizations are working to make sure that impoverished children have toys to call their own.

Samaritan’s Purse

For more than 25 years now, the Samaritan’s Purse annual “Operation Christmas Child” has provided toys for children living in poverty. Franklin Graham, the president of this organization, began the tradition in 1993 by sending gifts to young kids experiencing the violence of war in Bosnia. Since then, the project has grown to spread gifts all across the world to more than 150 countries, including some of the poorest areas. Samaritan’s Purse asks donors to fill a shoebox with various gifts for either a boy or girl which then gets distributed to congregations located in these impoverished nations.The initiative has brought more than 178 million children toys throughout the years. In many cases, the gifts provided by Samaritan’s Purse will be the only toys these children receive in their childhoods. The work done by this organization embodies the true meaning of the holidays and acts as a Santa for the poor.

Play Well Africa

One of the most successful companies in the toy industry is Lego. Lego’s plastic colored bricks are educational and creative opportunities for children. Play Well Africa is dedicated to bringing these Lego pieces to the less fortunate living in Africa. Unlike other toys, which can break, stop working or require electricity, Lego’s offer a unique ability to allow children to play in any circumstances. Young Micah Slentz, a child himself, started Play Well Africa when he asked his father to buy his favorite toy, Lego bricks, and donate it to children in Africa. A simple kind gesture has grown into a massive project that receives both new and used Lego bricks and sends them to impoverished children in developing countries. With offices in both the United States and Australia, Play Well Africa is a multinational organization. Thousands of children in countries such as Uganda will build, create and have fun with Lego bricks, all thanks to a boy who wanted to share his favorite toy with the world.

The Toy Foundation

For decades now, the Toy Foundation has strived to create avenues to bring children of the world toys to play with. One of its most successful campaigns has been the “Toy Bank” which started back in 2003. The foundation relies on donations from top toy companies and in turn spreads these gifts to existing agencies located in impoverished countries. Donations come from all sorts of brands, including Hasbro, Lego and Mattel. Children surviving some of the worst living conditions receive brand new toys, an opportunity made possible by the Toy Foundation. Children with diseases, orphans and those in war-torn nations are the top priority for the Toy Bank, making the organization’s work imperative. Ensuring toys for children in the most vulnerable situations is the organization’s focus.

Toys for the Most Vulnerable Children

Toys can be a healthy outlet for children who live in some of the world’s poorest regions. Toys can provide both emotional support and stress relief. Whether it be a teddy bear to hug, a doll to dress up or Legos to build, the psychological benefits of playing with toys are something all children need. These organizations all help to make dreams come true for the young children who need toys the most.

– Zachary Hardenstine
Photo: Flickr