THE TOY LIBRARY- Lilian Oloo

Article 31 of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) places particular right for “all children to have rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to their age and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts”.  However, for best results and greater impact, play should be incorporated not only as a right of a child, but also as the best approach to a child’s development and learning process. In this regard, play should be made more intentional, with a ‘balanced diet’ kind of approach.

What is a Toy library?

The emergence of toy library can be traced from 1935, in Los Angeles, as a toy lending facility, then a play library in 1963. This was driven by a mother’s need to help her two children who were severely handicapped. Soon after, the replication began in Norway then to the rest of the world. Toy library is a high impact, cost effective, non-centre based programme and venue that gives children, families, ECD practitioners and early learning facilitators access to an assortment of cautiously selected educational play materials, play sessions and training on how to use the toys to enhance development. Toy library management provides a system to manage a large number of toys, a monitoring approach and standards against which all aspects of operations are evaluated. 

The early years of a child’s life is a period when neural connections are being laid down and the brain is most receptive to learning. Millions of young children are missing out on this critical window of opportunity due to lack of access to quality early learning opportunities and these can be achieved through toy libraries.  If toy libraries can be set up in communities, they would provide space to conduct “come and play” sessions to children, while at the same time offering the educational materials and resources necessary to promote young children’s readiness for school. These would also be venues for supporting existing under-resourced early learning centres and to conduct outreach programmes, which would give every child access to high quality early learning play opportunities. 

COMPETENCIES DEVELOPED IN TOY LIBRARIES AROUND THE WORLD

Toy Library Drives Early Learning 

Skills such as crawling, grasping, first walking steps, smiling and the first spoken words are known as developmental milestones. Quantitatively, developmental milestones that are usually studied include fine motor, gross motor, language, and social skills and children who fail to achieve these developmental milestones at the anticipated ages are believed to have delayed developmental milestones. However, stimulation has a role in making these changes qualitative.  Three vital factors during this stage are nutrition, healthcare and early learning. While home remains the first learning space for a child and the parent being the first teacher, early learning programmes set the best foundation for a child’s lifelong learning. Children who have access to high quality early learning programmes notably develop competences in social skills, fine and gross motor development and early literacy to mention a few. http://elcosceola.org/for-families/what-is-early-learning/. Toy libraries therefore provide rich spaces and materials for high quality early learning programmes. In addition, children born with challenges or in a challenging environment and those at risk of deprivation need support rapidly, particularly within the first two years of life, in order to recover and get back on track. Research reveals that if children at risk are given care and support in their early years, these interventions have the ability to reverse the effects of deprivation and to stimulate the development of their innate potential. 

Toy Library and Holistic DevelopmentAs children grow, their development and learning become more complex. Cognitive skills, creative skills, emotional skills, physical skills and social skills are interconnected and they constitute holistic development. These five skills are essential for a child to thrive in a dynamic and uncertain world. The surest way to achieve this development is through QUALITY PLAY. Research shows that playful learning experiences are more effective in developing these interconnected skills. It is equally important to provide them with a ‘balanced play diet’. Toy library work is much expertised. The toy library is organized to make play more intentional, with an objective to promote the development of each developmental domain.

It has been established that creativity, problem solving, inquiry and increased vocabulary are other important skills that are developed in toy libraries around the world.

WHERE TOY LIBRARIES OPERATE

Every child deserves care, support and opportunities necessary to realize his or her full potential. To achieve this, it is necessary to have a toy library at the reach of every child. This calls for establishment of different kinds of toy libraries which include:-

  • ECD Centre toy libraries
  • Toy libraries for children with special needs
  • Hospital toy libraries
  • Private toy libraries
  • Community toy libraries
  • Reference toy libraries

If every child had access to a toy library that provides high quality early learning play opportunities, he or she would have the required foundation to flourish,  make it through formal schooling, continue their studies and lead a decent and successful adult life, consequently breaking the cycle of poverty. The early childhood space requires innovation with respect to how programmes are delivered. Establishing toy libraries will result in improved learning outcomes for all children.

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Lilian Oloo is an Early Childhood Educator and a play learning enthusiast. She is a trained trainer in Toy Library Setup and Administration. Lilian superintended the establishment of the first toy library in Kenya, OMEP Kenya Toy Library, which provides quality early learning, play opportunities to the underprivileged community in Kibera slums, Nairobi. She is a World Board Member of International Toy Library Association as the Africa Link.

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