The Program

Training & Resources in Early Education (TREE) is a non-profit organization which provides training and resources for ECD service providers with a focus on supporting families and children from birth through age four in the marginalized and underserved provinces of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and the Eastern Cape in South Africa. TREE has a long history of training early childhood practitioners from low-resource home, community, and early learning settings. In particular, TREE has developed practical and accessible approaches to implement playful learning in classrooms as well as in non- center based settings in South Africa.

Program components include:

  • Providing direct training to early childhood practitioners to offer nutrition, health, and hygiene services and run short, structured sessions which utilize play-based learning approaches for children ages 4 to 5.

  • Training community facilitators to provide home visiting interventions through cluster-based workshops and training on early stimulation, child development, information about access to grants and key social services, nutrition and hygiene for families and children ages 0 to 2.

  • Offering community toy libraries which provide poor children, families, practitioners, and community facilitators the opportunity to borrow educational toys while serving as a community resource site demonstrating food gardening, water harvesting as well as sanitation. Community Toy Libraries are also used as space for toy librarians to run structured play sessions for children and for government service provision.

  • Providing ongoing support and peer learning opportunities for practitioners and community facilitators to improve the quality of their practice, covering topics that include hands-on classroom activities, appropriate discipline and praise techniques, and playful learning.

Challenges

Since many practitioners lack formal training and may not be fully comfortable learning in English, they may have difficulty understanding the extensive training material and later applying it in their programs the language of instruction for training courses.

Although TREE trainers guide practitioners to use the resources that they have to support children and their learning, in reality, practitioners are constrained by their environment. An example of this tension is that play and developmentally appropriate activities often require ample physical space for children to spread out, yet this is often not available.

Although TREE has been effective in disseminating knowledge to practitioners around integrating playful learning in practice, the organization is limited by existing attitudes around the value of playful learning.

Success Factors

TREE engages a broad range of practitioners, targeting them at their ability level and supporting them to facilitate ECD programs with playful learning approaches. For example, TREE offers bridging courses for practitioners who lack formal education prior to their entry into accredited training programs. 

TREE provides practical guidance to support practitioners’ use of playful learning. For example, TREE trainers encourage practitioners to organize their classrooms according to different themes to encourage different types of play. Practitioners receive other practical lessons including developing their own toys from locally available resources and developing lesson plans.

TREE-supported toy libraries increase opportunities for play among communities, allowing practitioners, caregivers, and community members to borrow educational toys for supporting play activities in various environments.