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Blog By Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye

It is a few minutes after nine o’clock and the children of Mirambo integrated Early Childhood Development Centre (iECD) are all in class for morning lessons. In the middle class, for those aged 4 to 5 years, it is time for the mathematics lesson, one led by children themselves. The session is very participatory and the children are learning through songs.

Before the lesson begins, teacher Immaculate engages the children through a song. She wants them to sit down before the lesson begins.

Learning through play bubbles

‘Sit down”, “We are sitting down.” Sit down”, “We are sitting down.” They do this while clapping and dancing.

When they have all settled down, teacher Immaculate asks for a volunteer to lead the class, several hands go up in the air but little Amos, a 5 year old boy is selected. He quickly dashes to the corner where locally made learning materials like balls, sticks, bottle tops, are kept. He chooses balls made out of banana fibres. He then picks up one ball at a time, counting loudly one up to ten as the whole class repeats after him. Upon completion, the whole class applauds him for a job well done through a song that is accompanied by a dance. He also joins in the dancing with a smile.

“Amos, Amos, you are so good. You are very nice. You are so clever. A soda and a cake for you,” they all chorus.

Medius Busingye, the head caregiver at the centre affirms that they chose this approach because it enables the children learn faster. “It is fun because we teach them through play,” she mentions. The children are also taught how to interact with each other, how to take care of themselves, basic hygiene practices, among many other things.

Throughout the day, the classes conducted are simplified for the little ones to learn easily and quickly. The centre activities begin at 9 o’clock with an activity known as morning circle and end with another activity named goodbye circle.

Mirambo iECD Centre, located 18kms from Kabale town in western Uganda, is a faith based model ECD centre set up with UNICEF support. Through community mobilization, the centre was set up to provide early learning services to children between the ages of 3 and 6 years in Mirambo sub-county and neighbouring sub-counties.

Prior to its establishment, the children stayed at home because the nearby primary school couldn’t enrol the little ones, they didn’t have any facilities for that age group. However, since its inception in 2012, the numbers have since gone up from 25 to 89 in 2017. The centre boasts of five teachers and five trained caregivers. Today, children accompanied by their parents, walk as far as 3km to the centre because they want to learn and play.

“Early learning provides a firm foundation for these children, according to Kate Kasiisi, the Inspector of Schools, Kabale District before mentioning that UNICEF supported the training of all caregivers at the iECD centre. “We emphasize early learning as a key component of Early Childhood Development (ECD).”

The little ones are not the only ones benefitting from this Centre, their parents too are enjoying the services. Under the ECD campaign supported by UNICEF, the caregivers have been trained on optimal ECD behaviours that a child requires from the time they are conceived until they are eight years of age.

Therefore, these critical messages are also passed on to parents through monthly sessions held at the Centre. “We sensitise parents on why it is important to take good care of their children from the time they are conceived until they are eight years,” says Busingye. “We conduct sessions on pregnancy, breastfeeding, nutrition, sanitation, nurturing and care of the young ones and usually have an attendance of 70 parents including men.” Why do we involve parents?” Busingye asks. “We want to ensure that the practices children learn from school are also passed on to the parents.”

Busingye is very proud of the work she is doing to ensure children in her community receive the best start in life. “If parents, leaders, the church, are committed, we can support our children even in a rural setting like this. Hope other communities in Kabale can learn from us.”