THE PROGRAMME & TOOL
Learning Through Play (LTP) is a flagship programme of the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre, Toronto, Canada. The Centre is a children’s mental health facility that is dedicated to delivering optimal mental health services to infants, children, youth, and their families, and promoting the healthy and adaptive development of children around the world.
The Learning Through Play programme utilises low-literacy, multicultural materials to provide information about the physical, cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional aspects of child development. The programme provides training and support to frontline community workers, who in turn provide this vital information to parents.
The Learning Through Play (LTP) resources are pictorial “calendars” that depict the successive stages of child development, along with brief descriptions of simple play activities that show parents what they can do to promote healthy child development. They focus on five key areas of development denoted by the acronym SPRUC (as developed by Judith L. Evans and Ellen Ilfeld); Sense of Self, Physical, Relationships, Understanding the World, and Communication.
The most innovative aspects of the LTP programme are:
- its emphasis on parent-child play as a means to promote learning and attachment;
- its use of a hands-on approach that emphasises learning through demonstration and practice;
- its use of a simple, low-literacy, pictorial format that presents information about successive stages of child development;
- its sensitivity with respect to illustrations, language, concepts, and values to ensure widespread acceptability;
- its inclusion of all family members; and
- its availability in many languages.
The Learning Through Play Calendar (Birth to 3 Years) was first developed in the mid-eighties under the direction of Dr Bea Ashem. The calendar was based on her work with very poor and deprived communities in Nigeria, Africa. Her work confirmed via research documentation, that psychosocial stimulus is as vital an input for the healthy growth and development of the child, as nutritional inputs.
The tool was initially used in a home visitors programme, in Toronto, where trained staff visited parents from different cultural backgrounds, providing information and support about Parenting and Child Development. They helped parents to learn developmental activities and how these would benefit the children. The parents were shown how to actively interact with the child, and to create new or similar activities on their own. This enabled the parents to feel empowered, knowing that they could enhance their child’s development.
To further meet the needs of parents, the Learning Through Play Calendar (3 to 6 Years) was subsequently developed by a small working group from four agencies – Dellcrest Children’s Centre, Babies’ Best Start, North York Public Health Department, and Toronto Department of Public Health – in consultation with an advisory group consisting of Child Development Organisations, Boards of Education, Children’s Mental Health Agencies, and several ethno-specific organisations. The calendar includes a careful selection of developmental milestones. There is a broad-based categorisation of developmental stages, providing a wide range for normalcy, which would help to understand and accept individual variations.