Nuku'alofa, Tonga – At least once a week, Fakamalinga Tonga takes her four-year old son, Falefehi, to play-based activities organized by her community. These play groups have only been running for less than a year, but Fakamalinga sees them as integral to her son’s development.
“I come to the play-based activities with Falafehi because I think early childhood experiences are good for the children. Here, they learn their letters, their numbers, the shapes and the colors,” said Fakamalinga.
While groups like these are certainly fun for children like Falefehi, they are a lot more than just play dates. They are also about giving parents and the community the opportunity to help prepare children for school. The groups use activities such as nature walks, reading, and sensory and messy play, to help children build confidence, social skills and their vocabulary, while also providing a comfortable environment for parents to learn new ways to support their child’s development.
These community-run groups are delivered through the Pacific Early Age Readiness and Learning project (PEARL), which is funded by the Global Partnership for Education and implemented by the World Bank. PEARL has two key goals: to support children to develop key skills that will be useful at school, and to help more children learn to read and write well in their first years of primary school, which has knock-on effects throughout their education.
Getting kids, families and communities school-ready
Early childhood development is about having an all-inclusive approach from the time the baby is conceived to the early years of their life. From birth to age 5, young children develop the foundations for language, thought and learning processes, as well as movement and coordination.
They also gain important social and emotional skills by interacting with adults and other children in non-familiar settings. These experiences are fundamental for personal development and learning throughout their lifetime, particularly in a region as community-minded as the Pacific.
“We see a big difference in the children who have had some early childhood [education] experience, whether that is formally through a school-based program or informally through parents,” said Nadia Fifita, Director at Ocean of Light International School, in the Tongan capital, Nuku’alofa.
Community-organized play-based activities, supported through PEARL, are now being piloted across Tonga with low-cost, sustainable options to test the effectiveness of this approach.