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TOY for Inclusion Conversations: Play Hub Coordinators from Hungary

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers and activities continue to occur in online spaces, TOY for Inclusion is taking advantage of this movement online to showcase some of the most influential and crucial voices of the TOY for Inclusion project.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve shared updates on the work of partners involved in the project. We’ve also highlighted insights from municipalities about the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs’ unparalleled importance in communities.

Now, we’re handing the microphone to those who are working in the Play Hubs. Listen to hear what Teri, Piri and Bea, Local Action Team (LAT) Coordinators in Hungary, want you to know about their work.

Meet the interviewees

Name: Kanalas Terez (Teri)
Years working as LAT coordinator: 3

Name: Lakatos Richardne Piroska (Piri)
Years working as LAT coordinator: 3

Name: Szabo Beata (Bea)
Years working as LAT coordinator: 1

Q: What do you think makes the TOY for Inclusion approach unique or different from other initiatives for young children and their families?

Teri: From the very start, creating a welcoming atmosphere in the Play Hub was very important. It is a safe place for the families, not only because they have access to toys but also because they are loved and cared for. That is why it is different. 

Bea: The main difference is that most programs target children, but the Play Hubs are for the whole family; the parents, the grandparents, and the relatives. Adults can talk to each other as well, so this is for building community. Another aspect is that we target families with very different backgrounds from the community, and a group of local professionals support its operation.  

Q: We know that one of the most important features of the TOY for Inclusion approach is the flexibility, can you explain how your Play Hub adapted during the pandemic?

Piri: During the pandemic, we all are restricted; rules regulate our work, but we did not want to limit our relationship with the families, so we turned to the online space. We invited the families to contribute by reading poems, telling tales, and discussing how they spend their days in the new situation.

Bea: Following the national restrictions and rules, we changed to an online operation as well. We had a continuous dialogue with the Nagydobos Play Hub to share ideas between the local families and the professionals. Our idea was to find ways to help the families to cope with this new situation. We asked the local pediatrician (who is a member of the Local Action Team) to talk about the pandemic from a health perspective. A psychologist also guided us on dealing with distancing, and a teacher helped the children and parents do schooling from home. A special educator advised the parents if they should ask their kids to continue the school tasks during the summer or not. 

I want to highlight two community events. We held an online May Day event, which was a one-day program for the local families. In cooperation with the local professionals, we created short creative videos to entertain and activate the families for the whole day. The other was the online Advent Tale Calendar. Each day during Advent, a parent, a child, a local professional, a member of the local coordination team, or a colleague from Partners Hungary recorded a tale. We posted them on the Play Hub Facebook page. 

It has been challenging as, after six months of regular operation, we had to close down again, but it seems that the community remained together and followed us. One of our videos reached 30,000 people. 

Q: Can you tell us about one reaction, feedback or comment from a family or child attending your Play Hub that had an impact on you personally, or that ‘touched your heart’? 

Bea: There is a very shy young boy, and after the third visit, he held my hand at a carnival in the garden. I like it so much when I walk down the street and children greet me, asking when the next time they come to Play Hub will be. I heard a story from my colleague about a little boy who enjoyed playing with a toy, and he liked it so much that he asked for the same for his birthday.

Another meaningful memory for me was a therapy workshop where children talked about their fears, and the parents also had good discussions with a psychologist. For me, that was a little miracle event. 

Teri: It happened at the very beginning, a grandmother came to the Play Hub with her grandson for the first time. The little boy looked into the Play Hub, turned to his grandma, and said: “Let’s go home; I’d like to change and put on my nice clothes to come here.” It was so memorable for me that I will never forget. 

Q: What are two things you want policy makers to know about TOY for Inclusion?

Piri: In Nagydobos, the most important thing is that there is a place where families with different backgrounds can come together. They can talk and discuss things. Mothers are also able to exchange experiences, so there is a shared space. Mothers can learn how to play with their children here. There is always some housework to do if they are at home, cleaning, cooking, and there is no time to play with their children. Here it is possible: playing obliviously together.

Bea: I can connect to what Piri has said. This program builds community. Something was missing here in Csobanka. Families did not have much to do or a place where children could go after school to play for half an hour. Besides, it strengthens the community. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge that the local professionals hold about the families, and previously there was no forum to get together and share. 

Q: Can you share in a few words what makes you proud to be a Local Action Team coordinator/Play Hub Assistant? 

Teri: What I’m very proud of is that we can keep up the quality of our work.

Bea: The LAT became a professional forum here. We can count on each other, which was proven by the big online events that I have already mentioned, the online May Day and Advent Tale series. I think the Play Hub now has prestige, and it has spread in the neighboring villages that Csobanka has a Play Hub. 

Piri:  I’m the proudest that the Play Hub is three years old here, and we can count on the local professionals; at any community event, they come to volunteer. 

Whatever our problem is, whatever we would like to organize, we can turn to them. And what is even more important is that we have built and kept the trust of the families, the local professionals, and directors of the local institutions. 

Piri, Teri, Bea, thank you for sharing your perspective.

Watch the interview in Hungarian.

Earthquake in Croatia Hits Close to TOY Play Hub

After a powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck central Croatia on December 29th, members of the TOY from Inclusion team in Sisak are still feeling the impact. The earthquake happened about 15 km from Sisak, a town that hosts one of the TOY Play Hubs.  

During the earthquake, seven people died, one of which was a 12-year-old girl. Petrinja, the epicenter, and Sisak are devastated. Colleagues from the TOY for Inclusion Local Action Team (LAT) were not injured; however, their homes are damaged.  

The biggest challenge now, which keeps residents from returning to ‘normal’ life, is constant fear since the ground has continued shaking for days.  

However, good news comes from the epicenter of the earthquake as well; the first baby born in Croatia this year is from this city. And, if you can imagine, not a single toy fell from the shelves at the Play Hub in Sisak! 

Partners in Croatia aim to revitalize ECEC Play Hub activities. Open Acadamy Step by Step donated toys and other materials for children. These toys will be donated to children in Sisak and Petrinja. 

TOY for Inclusion Conversations: Play Hub Coordinators from Latvia

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers and activities continue to occur in online spaces, TOY for Inclusion is taking advantage of this movement online to showcase some of the most influential and crucial voices of the TOY for Inclusion project.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve shared updates on the work of partners involved in the project. We’ve also highlighted insights from municipalities about the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs’ unparalleled importance in communities.

Now, we’re handing the microphone to those who are working in the Play Hubs. Listen to hear what Tatjana and Dana, two Local Action Team (LAT) Coordinators in Latvia, want you to know about their work.

Interview with Dana Didžus

Listen to the audio in Latvian or read the interview in English below.

Role in TOY for Inclusion: LAT Coordinator
Where: Latvia
Job title: LAT coordinator, Roma teacher assistant
Years as LAT Coordinator: 
3 years

Q: What do you think makes the TOY for Inclusion approach unique or different from other initiatives for young children and their families?  

A: Hello! I believe that the main thing that makes the Play Hubs unique is that the family is here together: not only can children come and play, but they play with their parents.

And yet, as Roma children rarely attend kindergarten, this is a place where they learn a lot of practical skills, watching and learning from each other. From childhood, they learn to share toys, behave politely, put things in their place, and other practical skills as I mentioned before. The fact that families get involved is great. I’m happy that when my parents or grandparents see that I’m playing with kids, they want to get involved too. We also have great and unique moments when we just drink tea together and enjoy different snacks and can discuss different things.

And, of course, it is also unique as this service is free for everyone, as there are very few places where you don’t have to pay for participation. Here is an opportunity to play with quality and expensive toys that the family may not be able to afford.

Q: We know that one of the most important features of the TOY for Inclusion approach is the flexibility, can you explain how your Play Hub adapted during the pandemic?

A: As the Play Hub is visited by people and children of different ages and nationalities, this approach was different for everyone. There were members who wanted to come for individual meetings directly in the Play Hub. There were families I visited with toys in their homes. We also used a lot of telephones and mobile phone applications (Viber, Zoom) to provide support in distance learning and to help with the school tasks.

I think it’s also unique that the Play Hub can provide a variety of services, not just playing or activities, but also professional support, for example, to solve some social issues here at the Play Hub. Of course, we ensured a 2-meter distance during meetings with individual families.

Q: Can you tell us about one reaction, feedback or comment from a family or child attending your Play Hub that had an impact on you personally, or that ‘touched your heart’?

A: I find a very nice comment made by a child that the Play Hub is the only place where he does not know and does not care about where his phone is. He does not look for the phone because he is not using the internet here, and sometimes even forgets the phone –like a child would forget their hat or gloves. Although a telephone is the most necessary thing for children in their daily lives, even at school they use telephones, but here they forget about them.

Also, one mother told us that the Play Hub is like a return to childhood. Because even if a game seems very childish, like games where rules are made up as they play along, the parents get very involved and play with great zeal, like returning to their own childhood.

Q: What are two things you want policy makers to know about TOY for Inclusion?

A: The primary thing I would emphasize is that families from different social backgrounds come here, thereby, this is a great opportunity for low-income families to play with games they cannot afford, because toys are really very expensive and children also get tired from them quickly. And, also, these various services that can be obtained here at the Play Hub. The Play Hub is the place where the Roma mediator works, dealing with various issues, both educational and social. These would be the main things.

Q: Can you share in a few words what makes you proud to be a Local Action Team coordinator/Play Hub Assistant?

A: I am most proud to have gained the trust of my Play Hub’s members, because in my daily work at school I feel that families have a desire to meet me more, not only at school, but also in the Play Hub.

And I am proud that the Play Hub helps break stereotypes, because people from different cultures are able to learn about one another various activities.

Yes, and I’m also proud to be one team, which is practically confirmed by the games where we are all one team and we play against the game. It unites us as one whole.

Interview with Tatjana Jefstafjeva-Aksjuta

Listen to the audio in Latvian or read the interview in English below.

Role in TOY for Inclusion: LAT Coordinator
Where: Latvia
Job title: Librarian, teacher, LAT coordinator
Years as LAT Coordinator: 
1 year

Q: What do you think makes the TOY for Inclusion approach unique or different from other initiatives for young children and their families?

A: I think our Play Hubs are very universal. This is their special feature. It is place for playing. The whole family can play, or just children. You can borrow toys there, or play a part in different events or activities. The Play hub can be used for other local organizations too.

Q: We know that one of the most important features of the TOY for Inclusion approach is the flexibility, can you explain how your Play Hub adapted during the pandemic?

A: During the pandemic, we tried to involve children in the activities on Zoom. It was a successful experience. We continue to provide our services because, although you can’t play at Play Hub now, you can still take toys home. We also actively used Facebook, where we put various interesting tasks and activities to show parents how to play with their children with things they already have at home.

During the school year, we provided individual telephone counseling to children and families, helping with distance learning, doing homework, and solving other issues.

Q: Can you tell us about one reaction, feedback or comment from a family or child attending your Play Hub that had an impact on you personally, or that ‘touched your heart’?

A: This year we had an event dedicated to Father’s Day. And I was really moved by how fathers played with their young children, especially their daughters because there is a great contrast — a big father and a little girl, and how they play.

I saw one special dad, how much he loves his daughter, how he plays with her. It was the first time the father came to our Play Hub, and he was very surprised that there is such a place where the whole family can come and play, and how many toys there are. It was touching for me.

Q: What are two things you want policy makers to know about TOY for Inclusion?

A: The most important thing I would like to say is that Play Hubs are for families. The family is an eternal value. Looking at the Satversme (Constitution) of the Republic of Latvia, it can be seen that the family is considered a basic element of a cohesive society. That’s why it’s so important to think about family because it is in the family and in our Play Hubs that society is formed from an early age. This is the most important thing I would like to emphasize.

Q: Can you share in a few words what makes you proud to be a Local Action Team coordinator/Play Hub Assistant?

A: I have always liked to play board games, since I was a child, and invent my own games. Now I have the opportunity to teach other children and families to play some games. I teach them how to play board games —  I teach them what the game is, help them work together, communicate and cooperate, and teach children to lose too, because that too is very important. 

Some children do not know how to play at all. When they succeed, when they roll the dice and move the required number of squares,  I see the shine in their eyes – ‘yes, I succeeded!’ I know how to do it and how to use this algorithm in other similar games too. They invite their friends and play together! I’m glad I’ve taught them that they can build a team and play games together, here and now, rather than computer games alone.

Thank you for sharing your perspective, Tatjana and Dana! These interviews were conducted by Kristine Liepina of the Center for Education Initiatives.

 

TOY For Inclusion Conversations: Play Hub Coordinators From Croatia

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers and activities continue to occur in online spaces, TOY for Inclusion is taking advantage of this movement online to showcase some of the most influential and crucial voices of the TOY for Inclusion project.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve shared updates on the work of partners involved in the project. We’ve also highlighted insights from municipalities about the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs’ unparalleled importance in communities.

Now, we’re handing the microphone to those who are working in the Play Hubs. Listen to hear what Monika and Refika, two Local Action Team (LAT) Coordinators, want you to know about their work.

Interview with Monika and Refika

Listen to the audio in Croatian or read the transcripts in English below.

IVA: Hello, everyone, my name is Iva, and I work at the Open Academy Step by Step.

Today I will interview our LAT coordinators from two Play Hubs in Croatia, Monika Horvat, the Play Hub coordinator in Orehovica, and Refika Omerćehaić, the LAT coordinator of the Play Hub in Sisak. I will ask a question – first Monica will answer it, and then Refika, and in this way, they will share their experience of working in Play Hub. So, let’s start with the questions. The first question is:

What do you think that makes the TOY for Inclusion approach so unique and different from other initiatives aimed at children and their families?

MONIKA: The “TOY for Inclusion” approach is different because it is focused on the entire community, with the child at the center. Our LAT includes people of all ages; together, we design and run our Play Hub. We are guided by our intention and aim to make it interesting for children.

REFIKA: I will add to what my colleague said, the Play Hub and the TOY library are available and adapted to all ages of children, all toys are didactic, and there are a variety of toys available to children. The membership is free. The Play Hub includes children from vulnerable groups, different age groups, different backgrounds, and opportunities. The Play Hub provides early childhood services in the community and empowers parents through educational topics.

IVA: Thank you! The second question is – we know that flexibility is one of the most important features of the TOY for Inclusion approach. Can you explain how the Play Hub adapted to the conditions of the pandemic?

MONIKA: During the lockdown, our Play Hub was closed, but the cooperation continued through social networks and the Zoom application. I designed and recorded various videos in which I encouraged parents to socialize and play with their children. I tried to make all materials that I used for these videos easily accessible and affordable, things that are available in their homes. We also launched a YouTube channel where everyone can watch my videos and make some new toys based on them.

REFIKA: Our Play Hub operated in the same way; the children were given tasks on the Play Hub Facebook page. The tasks were creative, interesting, and adapted to the conditions at home so that children could do them independently or with their parents.

IVA: Can you give an example of a situation, reaction, or comment of a child or family who visits your Play Hub, that has affected you, or the reaction that you remember in particular?

MONIKA: I have to admit that what affects me are the children’s smiles when they come in and tears when they leave. It is something that happens almost every day. Little Rea always cries, and they always have to convince her to go home. I was very impressed by the fathers who baked tons of pancakes on two or three occasions and brought them to the Play Hub, they really put in the effort.

REFIKA: I remember the statements of two children and one parent. One boy said “I feel safe, relaxed, and accepted here”, and another child said the Play Hub is the place of his dreams because he can play there all the time. One father said that the Play Hub is the only place where he can spend quality time with his child because he is always too busy at home.

IVA: Very nice, thank you! The fourth question is to list two things you would like to inform our policymakers about.

MONIKA: Every community should have a place like this, and every child should play in a space like this. Invest in children because this is how you invest in the future. Simple as that!

REFIKA: I will follow up on Monica’s words again and say that what needs to be provided are the resources needed for the Play Hub. We need resources for external collaborators that we invite for workshops, resources for new toys and consumables, and resources for the people who maintain the Play Hub space.

IVA: Thank you! And the last question is to describe in a few words what makes you proud as a Local Action Coordinator.

MONIKA: I am very proud because I run such a wonderful place. I can contribute to children and their development, especially children from vulnerable groups. Namely, I have been working in this environment for more than ten years and I am aware that very few children attend local kindergarten. The Play Hub is an ideal place for us to provide them with the possibilities that all children should have, but unfortunately do not have.

REFIKA: I am proud of the great interest of parents, the local community, and the school where the Play Hub is located. By working at the Play Hub, we, the educators, also experienced changes. We have become more competent, more sensitive, and more ambitious.

IVA: Thank you so much, you can certainly be proud of what you do, I hope your wishes will become a reality, and I am almost certain that we will have many more Play Hubs because all children deserve it. Thank you, Monika and Refika, and I hope we will still spend time together in this way.

TOY for Inclusion Conversations: Play Hub Coordinators from Italy

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers and activities continue to occur in online spaces, TOY for Inclusion is taking advantage of this movement online to showcase some of the most influential and crucial voices of the TOY for Inclusion project.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve shared updates on the work of partners involved in the project. We’ve also highlighted insights from municipalities about the TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs’ unparalleled importance in communities.

Now, we’re handing the microphone to those who are working in the Play Hubs. Listen to hear what Manuela and Martina, two Local Action Team (LAT) Coordinators want you to know about their work.

Interview with Manuela Tedesco

Role in TOY for Inclusion: LAT Coordinator
Where: Casa di TOY” Play Hub, Mazara del Vallo, Italy
Job title: Social worker in the field of education
Years as LAT Coordinator:
Almost 2 years

Q: What do you think makes the TOY for Inclusion approach unique or different from other initiatives for young children and their families?
A: Play Hubs are places where different cultures can meet and feel welcome; they are places of exchange between generations and where the experience of the older adults are a treasure for the children and the community.

Q: We know that one of the most important features of the TOY for Inclusion approach is flexibility. Can you explain how your Play Hub adapted during the pandemic?
A: We reached out to the children through chat and social media, keeping their moods up with digital activities and ideas for new games. Parents were also happy because they could have funny moments too.

Q: Can you tell us about one reaction, feedback, or comment from a family or child attending your Play Hub that had an impact on you personally or that ‘touched your heart’?
A: Two sisters asked to put their drawings on the wall to decorate the “Casa di TOY” Play Hub; this touched my heart. It helped me understand how attached they are to this place and how it feels like their own home.

Q: What are two things you want policy makers to know about TOY for Inclusion?
A: I want policy makers to understand how important playing is to overcome cultural barriers from an early age and the importance of playing between caregivers and children, which is often underestimated.

Q: Can you share in a few words what makes you proud to be a Local Action Team coordinator?
A: I am happy to participate in a good initiative to promote inclusion in my local community and coordinate the Local Action Team because it is composed of qualified professionals, who are the fundamental support for the project itself.

Interview with Martina Sciamplicotti

Role in TOY for Inclusion: LAT Coordinator
Where: Ex Fienile” Play Hub, Rome, Italy
Job title: Pedagogist
Years as LAT Coordinator:
1.5 years

Q: What do you think makes the TOY for Inclusion approach unique or different from other initiatives for young children and their families?
A: In my opinion, the TOY For Inclusion approach’s merit is its ability to adapt itself to the context and the opportunity this leaves to build the project with the Local Action Team (LAT) and the people benefiting from the project itself, such as families.

Q: We know that one of the most important features of the TOY for Inclusion approach is flexibility. Can you explain how your Play Hub adapted during the pandemic?
A: First of all, we tried to maintain the relationships because they were a point of reference with the children who attended the Play Hub, and for this reason, the Hub became digital.
We also tried to respond to the families’ needs by delivering food parcels and clothes for children. I want to emphasize that we could to respond to the community’s needs, thanks to a constant exchange with LAT members
.

Q: Can you tell us about one reaction, feedback, or comment from a family or child attending your Play Hub that had an impact on you personally or that ‘touched your heart’?
A: I come here with my children because they don’t go to kindergarten. In the Play Hub, they have the opportunity to play with other children and learn; it’s very good for them to come here. I can also make friends and talk to other moms.

Q: What are two things you want policy makers to know about TOY for Inclusion?
A: First, I would like policy makers to know that the Play Hub can be a crucial meeting point, a place that brings together many different local actors who usually do not have the opportunity to meet.
Second, TOY for Inclusion is a model of local action that has an echo internationally.

Q: Can you share in a few words what makes you proud to be a Local Action Team coordinator?
A: I’m proud to be the coordinator of a team with different professions, skills, and points of view, which always try to meet and dialogue for a common goal — building something that is really significant for the community.

Hungarian Play Hub helps build relationships

“It’s good to play because it builds valuable relationships among people”

Roma and non-Roma, adults and older adults — generational gaps and differences collapse when a child, parent, and grandparent play together. Take, for example, the excitement of playing board games among various age groups or opportunities for gathering to share experiences. This is the heart of the Play Hub in Nagydobos, which continues to stimulate community events and programs for intercultural and intergenerational dialogue, as well as learning. The Play Hub works to create an even better community in Nagydobos.

At the Nagydobos Play Hub, the Roma mediators have been working for several years to build trust and cohesion among families. Through this work, public institutions have now become strong partners. The work of Play Hub coordinators is also being increasingly recognized by care workers and local decision-makers in Nagydobos. Thanks to this recognition and strong collaboration between the municipality and the Play Hub, 30 disadvantaged children attended a summer camp. As part of the local settlement program, the staff of the Play Hub, Piri, and Teri, took the local children to this camp. This visit helped to establish and strengthen relationships outside the school and kindergarten in a playful way. Due to their social status in the community, many children have little or no access to summer camp or a trip with their peers and no access to engaging toys.

Have a look at the photos below to get a glimpse of the summer camp. They already can’t wait to share stories of this time at home, or in school and kindergarten in September.

TOY For Inclusion Play Hubs Respond to COVID-19: Latvia

In March 2020, when COVID19 began to sweep across Europe, services provided to children, families and communities were heavily impacted. Physical distancing has exacerbated many issues present in communities across the globe, from the lack of access to technology for many families to violence within homes.

The measures that were taken across Europe, and elsewhere, are impacting all aspects of life. TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs are no exception, but their quick mobilization and innovative practices have meant that staff members are still reaching out and engaging with the community even without the physical space the Play Hubs normally are housed in.

TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs, which operate in 8 countries to provide inclusive spaces for young children and their families, have continued to support them through flexible solutions. The Local Action Teams tasked with operating the 15 Play Hubs under this project have sprung into action to adjust activities to address community challenges, often ways formal services haven’t been able to. The work of these teams has continued and, in many cases, intensified.

Due to their unique and well-established position within communities, they are a trusted resource and support system for families that are facing any number of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic shines a light on the essential elements of the TOY for Inclusion project – intersectoral work as a way to address complex issues, innovative and flexible solutions tailored to communities and the development of inclusive and easy to reach services.

Each country has developed a tailored response under extremely challenging circumstances. In the coming weeks, TOY partners will share insights into their response efforts. Here, we share the response from Latvia.

Creating joyful moments in uncertain times

TOY for Inclusion partner in Latvia, Centre for Education Initiatives, shares that the current restrictions bring challenges for the Play Hubs. Providing distance learning for children is difficult, especially for vulnerable families. The government has shown awareness of the technical difficulties and has attempted to make sure that each household has Internet access and equipment such as computers, tablets or mobile phones.

However, overcoming this obstacle proves difficult in practice.

Still, the coordinators are maintaining a playful atmosphere even through the challenges by organizing online activities like puzzles, games and story time. These sessions spark moments of joy for children and provide short periods of relaxation for parents. 

Another challenge is the support children need in the learning process, which is especially needed for younger school-aged children. Parents are not always able to provide this support and assistance to children. The Play Hub staff is providing one-to-one telephone counseling to help parents support their children. An opportunity that is being taken by many Roma families in the Play Hub’s community.

Play Hub coordinators have also committed to helping families facing additional challenges by contacting municipal services when needed.