Did you know that play is the language of learning for children? Just think of the wide range of skills that children need in order to excel in a fast-changing world – physical, social, emotional, cognitive and creative skills.

Play is also a child’s social and emotional toolbox to build resilience in a stressful world.

The research continues to grow that play helps children to build their brain architecture and to master these important skills for life. All children have this superpower, but we need a community of responsive, caring adults to create platforms for children to practice this superpower. Parents have an important role to prepare their children for the future, but many parents need loving guidance to implement playful, caring parenting practices.

Discovering this need, Ezrah Community Training and Developed developed the BuildSmart Play Challenge Programme. This programme trains community facilitators to mentor parents on the power of play to advance the four building blocks of parenting:
1. Connection
2. Future perspective
3. Positive role-modelling
4. Problem-solving

The BuildSmart Play Challenge training brought much joy to community facilitators who are eager to make a difference in families as Gloria Feleza from Love to Give shared: “Wow, it was fantastic, enjoyable and the facilitator did the training with a happy heart.”

After the initial training, the BuildSmart Play Challenge was piloted in Kayamandi, Stellenbosch in collaboration with a few like-minded organisations and here is what we have learned so far:
1. Many parents are not aware of the importance of play in their children’s development.
2. Clear guidance on how to use play as part of daily routines, can go a long way in helping parents to implement playful learning.
3. In guiding parents, it is important to create spaces where they can debrief and share parenting challenges.
4. Parents often need support to grow as positive role-models and to plan towards their children’s future.
5. Play helps to build the parents’ connection with others and in building resilience, family homes can become happier places.

Here is some encouraging feedback from our dedicated BuildSmart facilitators on the changes they are observing after parents started to implement the BuildSmart Play Challenge:
1. The BuildSmart parent groups started to develop into peer support groups where
parents can encourage one another and share skills.
2. Story-telling became an important tool for parents to connect with their children before
3. Parents learned practical skills such as giving their children fruit instead of unhealthy
4. The use of positive words of encouragement has the ability to change bad habits.

We celebrate these positive parent mentoring journeys as summarised in the words of Nomajama Jikela (BuildSmart facilitator from Love to Give): “I’ve learned a lot of communication – how to treat others as diamonds and to polish them as confident parents, raising resilient children.”

We trust that as more facilitators join our BuildSmart community, the words of another BuildSmart facilitator will echo across communities in South Africa: “This is a great initiative and it will make a difference in communities at large as it already does in the ones the program is running in” (Zolisile Dodi, Legacy Community Development).

1. Research on play
2. BuildSmart online course