Teach For All Partners Highlight the Importance of Networks in Early Childhood Development at LEGO Idea Conference

Brenda Bernaldez Ruíz, Director of Leadership and Education, Enseña por México

On October 12 and 13, more than 500 leaders, practitioners, researchers, government representatives, and social innovators interested in Early Childhood Development attended the annual LEGO Idea Conference, where the 2021 theme was “All For Kids.” Presenters at the conference included members of leading local and international organizations that have been involved in learning, education, and early childhood development. Participants gathered in 16 workshops to share their insights on new ways of learning that will equip and empower children to become creative, engaged, lifelong learners. Given their work in Early Childhood contexts, representatives of Enseña por México's Early Childhood team, Teach For All's Global Learning Lab, and Teach For Morocco were invited to host a workshop on the topic “Creating and Promoting a Play Advocates Network for Early Childhood.” 

During the panel, Steven Farr, Head of the Global Learning Lab for Classroom Impact at Teach For All, shared the results of a series of crowd-sourced studies of transformational classrooms. The studies demonstrated that in order for students to develop connectedness, awareness, agency, mastery and wellbeing it is necessary to see communities as sources of power and wisdom and recognize that lasting change requires authentic partnership between students, families, and educators. Next, Mohamed El Idrissi, CEO of Teach For Morocco, shared the necessary steps that enabled Teach For Morocco to collaborate as an essential partner in the country’s national Early Childhood program launched in 2018. And finally, Enseña por México shared the key elements they have identified to developing programs based on the Nurturing Care Framework for Early Childhood Development components—which are further explained below..

Early Childhood Development 

According to Plan International, every year 43% of all children under five years old in low-and middle-income countries may not reach their developmental potential due to exposure to violence and lack of nurturing care. Poor health and malnutrition are cited as contributing factors, among others. Despite this alarming fact, governments, organizations and societies do not prioritize Early Childhood Development (ECD), even when research has shown that the period from pregnancy to age six lays the foundation for health, well-being, learning, and productivity throughout a person’s life, and has an impact on the health and well-being of the next generation as well.

In Enseña por México's experience it has become clear that in order to help children in the Early Childhood stage (0-6 years) reach their developmental potential, there is a need to create awareness of and design projects based on the five components included in the Nurturing Care Framework for Early Childhood Development:

  1. Good health
  2. Adequate nutrition
  3. Responsive caregiving
  4. Opportunities for early learning
  5. Security and safety

However, it is not only necessary that these elements are present in ECD projects, it is also critical that projects have a playful approach, since play is the main catalyst of brain development in early childhood. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, play leads to changes at the molecular (epigenetic), cellular (neuronal connectivity), and behavioral levels (socioemotional and executive functioning skills), promotes learning and the ability to adapt and problem solve, and stimulates social skills and positive behaviors.

Building and strengthening networks for Early Childhood

As mentioned above, it is not only necessary to create awareness of the benefits of providing a caring and playful environment for children, to take action, it is also essential to create connections among organizations that utilize the Nurturing Care Framework for Early Childhood Development components. Based on the Scaling Up School and Community Partnerships guide, Enseña por México has identified six key elements to do so:

  1. Identify networks with shared mindsets in relation to play: It is important to identify organizations, institutions, and communities that are open to learning more about play and the Nurturing Care Framework for Early Childhood Development. Keep in mind that there might be organizations that have a playful mindset, but do not use the Framework, or, on the contrary, that do utilize the Framework, but do not have a playful approach to it. Take advantage of both types of organizations and create connections that help them complement their knowledge. 
  2. Identify the resources provided by each actor in the network: Determine the strengths and expertise of each organization in the network and take advantage of them to bolster common projects. 
  3. Have a Super-Connector Mindset: Every time you meet someone new, ask yourself, how can we join forces? Look for ways to generate alliances and find out how the resources of their, your, and other organizations within the network can complement each other to achieve a shared vision.
  4. Direct your efforts toward making an impact in the caregiver mindset and not only in the routines: For long-term impact, it is crucial that actions included in the projects are aimed towards a change in the perception of play and nurturing care and don’t just provide “training in actions” to be executed and repeated. 
  5. Get in action: Carry on projects that align to the Nurturing Care Framework for Early Childhood Development components in a complementary way using each organization's expertise. Use play strategically as the transversal element that connects each of the components.  
  6. Be open to adapt projects based on evidence: Plan your projects in iteration cycles to have a dynamic curriculum that allows modifications to address emergent challenges and needs. 

While carrying out the elements above, it is critical to keep in mind the following principles:

  • Embrace the fact that play is an intrinsic part of people's development and wellbeing at all ages. 
  • Respect the cultural diversity and traditions of the communities you approach and have an open mind to understand the nuances in the roles of children and adults within them.
  • Recognize and accept that mindset change is a process, and as such, each organization and individual will develop at its own pace.
  • Challenge the traditional role of the adult in children's development repeatedly to nurture the deconstruction and reconstruction of a new vision. 

And remember: If you expect to be successful in the creation of solid networks that advocate and act to ensure every child has access to playful and nurturing environment that helps them reach their developmental potential, as Loris Malaguzzi of Reggio Emilia wrote, "It's necessary that we believe that the child is very intelligent, that the child is strong and beautiful, and has very ambitious desires and requests. This is the image of the child that we need to hold."