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Play sheets keep children engaged during Covid-19 pandemic

Vinay, a student of Class 3, had a tough time keeping himself engaged during the Covid-19 lockdown. He had to share his cellphone with his younger brother Raju, studying in Class 2. Their single room dwelling in the Malvani slums did not make life any easier. Clashing classes made it hard for Vinay to continue studying. Some days, when they could settle on a manageable time schedule, the boys would struggle with the internet connection. Their parents were quite worried, as the gap in their education kept widening and they both grew restless at home. 

When they were introduced to Toybank’s playsheets, they started by solving them together. They would download the sheets from the internet and sit for hours engaged in learning through the playsheet-based activities. Their parents were relieved that both the boys were happy and learning together. Vinay would help Raju read big words and both grew fond of puzzles, word searches, and playsheets that developed their problem-solving skills.

“We like learning new English words through these playsheets,” said Vinay enthusiastically.


COVID-19: Play made learning easy for students during pandemic

Although an eager learner, Ritu couldn’t concentrate in her virtual classes, as she lives in a joint family. The Class 5 student especially struggled with the English and Science syllabus, and sought help from her classmates, but was unable to completely grasp everything. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, teachers could give her special attention but doing that with every child virtually was nearly impossible. 

The teacher asked Ritu to speak to our Programme Officer and she confided how she missed being outdoors and playing games like Kho-kho, Kabaddi, Pakadapaki and Langdi. Our Programme Officer suggested that Ritu solve English and Science-based playsheets to motivate her and keep her on track with the syllabus. 

Ritu loved the playsheet ‘Short-Cuts’ which taught her English abbreviations, and the math-based playsheet Crack It. She was relieved by how easy it was to learn through Play, and was at par with her classmates uninhibited.


Play helped Sahil build confidence, taught him teamwork

Children would not mingle with Sahil and gradually, he grew averse to group activities. He would only mingle with his best friend Devika and no one else. When Play2Learn Sessions resumed at his school, Sahil was very excited and beamed at the thought of all the games he could play with, but revolted when he was asked to play together with his classmates. Knowing that teamwork is a crucial soft skill, the Programme Officers insisted that he had to share his games but allowed him to select Devika as his partner.


Instantaneously, he grabbed a game and began playing—completely engrossed in finishing all the puzzles in Match It. He became the first to complete a game amongst the rest of his class. Excitedly, he went ahead and even asked his classmates if he could play with them, building his fine motor skills through Curly caterpillar, and pattern recognition through the game ‘Pair of.’ At the end of the session, Sahil confided in the Programme Officers that he avoided the other children, as they would often tease him about being a slow learner. Now that he was able to solve the puzzles before them, it gave him the self-confidence to know that he was still good at learning and applying the concepts taught to him. 


Building a world of Play at Toybank

I dream that Play integrates into our way of life. That ‘Play is food for the child’s mind. Let it not go hungry’, becomes something to live by. 

– Shweta Chari, Co-founder, CEO, Toybank

It’s been a while since I wrote something first hand so I thought I would give you an update of all the ‘play’ful things’ that we have been up to at Toybank! 

I kept trying to write and wanted to let all of you know of all the prodigious happenings at our end and how the lives of all the children and teachers we have been working with, are getting transformed, but somehow I couldn’t write. But rest assured, our work is running literally in 5th gear, like there’s no tomorrow!

As always, in the earnest need of wanting to stay authentic to my feelings and wanting to bring out my best to share with you, it was getting hard! The last few years have been tough, challenging and extremely overwhelming to say the least. (as it has for most of us that have walked through this tough pandemic phase). But here I am now, steadily emerging, maybe a tad bit wiser and definitely fully charged up, with a sense of determination like I have never felt before!

Here goes, brace for impact as I always say! 

The years 2020, 2021, 2022 and now 2023 and 2024 are historically going to be defined as the landmark years for us in the foundation. More on that will follow in my subsequent writeups, but for now, let’s focus on June 2023. 

Quick data to contextualise:

  • We are now working with close to 75,000 children and 5,000+ teachers
  • Across 7 active districts in Maharashtra
  • Our current team size is 44 members
  • And we have close to 600 active volunteers engaging with us through our various play programmes

In June 2023, I was able to represent our organisation at the International Play Association conference held in Glasgow, Scotland. This was a magical experience, listening to people talk about everything Play for a whole week! We had conversations and discussions that were far beyond ‘Why Play is important’ and instead directly focused on, ‘How can we build entire programmes, communities, cities and even countries with Play at its central core?’ I felt at home with all the beautiful ‘Play People’ all around me. I realised how ahead of our times our foundation is in a way when we think about Play, and how we have been driving for Play centric programmes for the last almost two decades. I felt proud, humbled and super excited through this entire experience at the conference!

Read about it here.

Meanwhile, in Mumbai, as part of World Play Day, on May 28, we organised an Ink and Doodle workshop in collaboration with our dear Play Ambassador, Arzan Khambatta, renowned architect and sculptor. Our children were left in wonder and amusement, when the workshop helped them think outside the box. Witness their excitement here. We also made a new friend in the foundation, Karan Shah, whose art focuses on looking at everyday objects through a different lens. 

He left the children in wonder, and showed them how to think from different perspectives, to think beyond their imagination when looking at everyday objects. This workshop was held at a one-of-kind store called the Turn Around Shop that allowed us to use their space for free and not only that, but supported the entire event end-to-end for us, thus marking the start of a gigantic partnership with these amazing folks.

And something else happened, too! Our foundation has been listed on the Charities America Foundation platform! This is super exciting for us, especially when we are bang in the middle of a massive growth trajectory. Now, folks in America can make tax exempt donations to us till November 2023.  It would be amazing if you could champion this for us: Share this news with your friends and people you know and invite them to support us.  

Thank you for guiding us, being with us and quietly pushing our cause through all this time.

I dream that ‘Play’ integrates into our way of life. That “Play is food for the child’s mind. Let it not go hungry,” becomes something to live by. 

And that we realise the ‘Right to Play’ in India, well within our lifetime. 

Much Love,
Shweta Chari 

Shweta Chari is the co-founder and CEO of Toybank – Development through Play 


Toybank’s Play2Learn programme benefits children in Mumbai’s Govandi settlements

In a study conducted in 2012, it was found that Toybank’s Play2Learn programme sessions brought about improvements in children living in informal settlements of Govandi, Mumbai in India

The study was conducted over a period of three months with 28 children. Through the play sessions, these children were closely monitored over a period of three months by the teachers at Apnalaya’s centres. The teachers were provided sheets, which were based on international play therapy indicators, and the data was divided under the categories: social and emotional skills, life skills, motor skills, fine motor skills and language skills.

The findings of the study revealed that three months after the play sessions, the children showed a 23.46% rise in social and  emotional skills; 25.95% rise in life skills; 33.33% improvement in motor skills; 29.03% improvement in fine motor skills and 21.17% rise in language skills. 

In addition, Toybank also conducted a quick and easy measure of attendance levels in government schools in Mumbai. After our Play2Learn programme sessions were introduced, there was an increase in attendance. The attendance increased by 45%. Children, who were missing school on Saturdays started attending their classes owing to these play sessions. 

It was also noticed that there was a 50% increase in the number of children who performed well in English, in their scholarship exam. The games that helped them the most were: Opposites, Similar word, Word builder, Sentence maker.

While India assures children of their right to education, health and protection, another basic right — Right to Play — remains unrecognised, undervalued and unadopted. Over the years, Toybank has focused on ensuring children have access to play through its Play2Learn Programme. 

Source: 3-month preliminary assessment study by The Opentree Foundation’s flagship project, Toybank – Development Through Play with Apnalaya  in August – September – October  2012


How children learn and develop through different types of Play

Children, particularly those from marginalised communities, are often denied access to play. Play helps children explore their physical environment and learn about the world right from childhood. It helps them express emotions and improve communication. Attachment theory points to human development beginning with two irreducible forms of play: attuned and exploratory. Play theorists, however, generally group play into three irreducible categories: solitary locomotor-rotational play, object play, and social play. Briefly, solitary play is primarily kinesthetic and takes place alone; object play can be social or solitary and involves the manipulation of inanimate objects; and social play involves two or more players. 

Types of Play 

Attuned play might seem the quintessential example of social play. But social play requires a self and an “other.” Since attuned play occurs before the infant forms an identity or a sense of an “other”, attuned play may be more accurately described as protosocial play. 

Object play maps easily onto exploratory play, which can be social, solitary, or object play. 

Free play (includes, pretend play)

The term free play is frequently used to describe play that is child directed, voluntary, and flexible and often involves pretend play. Studies that examine pretend play in children, or play that involves taking on different roles in pretend situations, define this type of play as exclusively child directed and therefore a type of free play. Some researchers have highlighted the vague nature of the concept of free play, as even spontaneous, child-led play is dependent on children’s previous experiences, and children’s interests tend to be introduced by adults rather than come from innate tendencies. 

Adult-guided play

Adult-guided play, in contrast, is described as lying “midway between direct instruction and free play” . In guided play, the activity can be either child initiated or adult initiated, but it is emphasised as a child-directed practice in which, just like in free play, the locus of control is placed with the child. Children direct their own learning within the established play contexts, while teachers enhance the learning experience by playing the role of commenters, coplayers, questioners, or demonstrators of new ways to interact with the materials involved. 

Play-based learning

Play-based learning has been described as a teaching approach involving playful, child-directed elements along with some degree of adult guidance and scaffolded learning objectives. The purpose of play-based learning is inherent in its name: to learn while at play. 

Inquiry play (play-based learning)

In inquiry play, the locus of control remains largely with the child. This type of play is child initiated, and, in response to child interests, teachers extend the play through the integration of related academic standards. 

Collaborative play (play-based learning)

In collaborative play, there is a shared locus of control. Teachers direct the outcomes of this play by determining the academic skills that students will develop. The teacher and students collaboratively design the context of the play, including both the theme and the resources necessary to the play. The children then direct the play within the created environment. 

Source: Origins of Play and Playfulness, Gwen Gordon | A continuum of play-based learning: The role of the teacher in Play-based Pedagogy and the fear of hijacking play, Angela Pyle & Erica Danniels, 2017


Toybank’s Play2Learn programme increases curiosity, attention span in children

In a research conducted by The Opentree Foundation under the Toybank project between 2017 and 2020, it was found that Toybank’s Play2Learn programme led to 10x increase in curiosity levels of children, 5x increase in honesty levels, and 2x increase in attention span. 

At Toybank, we adopt the Conscious Play™ approach to enable children from vulnerable communities to alleviate stress, build resilience and overcome probable adversity. Across 585 Play2Learn centres in 12 districts across Maharashtra, India, we provide safe spaces to over 75,000 at-risk children to be on track with their mental well-being, as well as socio-emotional and cognitive development. 

In early 2017, Toybank’s Play2Learn programme commenced in 13 Maharashtra Housing Board (MHB) schools at the informal settlements in Malwani, Mumbai, India. Children at MHB, growing up in challenging circumstances, needed to be equipped beyond a basic checklist of development and success. Our Conscious Play™ approach taught children to adapt, take risks, develop skills, explore alternatives, share and co-exist with each other. 

Through a baseline, midline and endline study over the course of three years, we conducted an impact study of its Play2Learn programme and tracked five key behavioural characteristics of children in these centres. This was done with a pre-designed, semi-structured  questionnaires, which was used to conduct in-depth interviews with 64 teachers (Class 1 to 8) in MHB, who represented 1,927 children. 

The study showed our Play2Learn programme’s impact on 5 key behavioural characteristics:

Rise in curiosity levels

The circumstances Malwani’s children grow up in hamper their drive for exploration and learning. With the set-up of Toybank’s Play2Learn Centers, these children had age and developmentally appropriate learning experiences that gave an outlet to their curiosity. Through our ‘Habit Formation’ module, they were encouraged to rise above difficulties and face the challenges. In the early days of our intervention, these children would avoid alphabetical, numerical and strategic games. Their confidence was boosted in our Play2Learn programme sessions, where they shed their inhibitions and explored challenging games with curiosity.

Increase in honesty levels 

We interviewed teachers about whether children took ownership of their actions (accepting mistakes, taking queries to teachers without hesitation, trusting peers and teachers). Before our interventions, the classrooms witnessed instances of bullying, teasing and intolerance. Children didn’t trust their peers, let alone seek refuge in teachers, whom they feared and never bonded with. But once our programme made playtime an essential part of their schedule, they started playing in mixed groups and have more empathy for each other. The ‘Habit Formation’ module taught them positive ways of living with others. Teachers became children while playing with them and gradually students opened up to them as well.

Decrease in anger and aggressive behaviour

Difficult circumstances cause distress in children’s personal lives and academics, affecting their relationships with their classmates and impeding their opportunities to learn. Along with our Play2Learn programme session rules of taking turns, patience, negotiation and problem solving, as well as the Anger Management module where children learn to cope with anger, jealousy and other such emotions, the children sstarted to exhibit more kindness and respect than they already did in their circles. They now channeled and practised these good habits with everyone.

Decrease in hyperactive tendencies and distractions/Increase in focus and attention

With the introduction of our play interventions, children were more interested in learning. They gradually learned to wait, play step-by-step, listened and followed instructions attentively. Alongside the games, ice-breakers like ‘Orange-Lemon-Banana’, ‘Traffic Signal’, ‘Clap activities’, etc. taught them self-control, listening skills, ways to be calm and avoid distractions.

Increase in emotional sensitivity

The multiplayer feature of many of our games ensured children played with each other and made friends, became empathetic and sensitive towards each other. Many activities such as ‘Just like me’ have made children aware that we all face challenges in life and that they aren’t alone. They can talk about it to their friends or a trusted person and find a whole array of solutions to cope with these emotions and recover their positivity.

Current practices in classrooms constrain a child’s intrinsic need to learn (curiosity), paving way for boredom, absenteeism, and disinterest in learning (lack of attention). Children may retort to temper tantrums (aggressive behaviour) because of emotional reasons, like not being able to cope with or describe their feelings. Making children more reflective (honest) of their actions individually and how they can affect others (emotional sensitivity) is the need of the hour. Through Toybank’s Conscious Play™ approach at MHB schools, children continue to learn to adapt, take risks, develop skills, explore alternatives, and share and co-exist with each other. These skills will not only help them navigate through adversities and successes that come their way today but will also prepare them for future endeavours.


Source: 3-year impact study in Malwani, informal settlements in Mumbai, India by The Opentree Foundation in April 2017 – March 2020.


Play for Transformation: Toybank roundtable discussion

The need to make Play mainstream and an integral part of society can never be emphasised enough. After all, play improves the educational, health and employability outcomes for children.
Driving on this notion, Toybank hosted its first-ever round table, to discuss ‘Play for Transformation’ and how to make it mainstream. The session was attended by Toybank’s trustees, board members and supporters.
Is Play understood and prominent in India? Is there a need to fully understand play before incorporating it into a child’s lifestyle? Notions like it is creativity and a child creating something is playing restricts its definition. If we redefine play, it may have a greater impact on children. The panel reckoned it’s a state of mind that can give you clarity of thought and minimize frustrations, which can be implemented in different aspects of life.
Play has been mainstreamed only in Scandinavian countries that have recognized its power. In India, it’s still as sidelined as mental health. The reason for play being just tangential indicated several issues it’s dealing with.
It comes at a cost 
Even though the right of every child, Toybank Advisory Board Member Vivek Jhangiani and CEO at United Toys, President of The All India Toy Manufacturers Association (TAITMA) and Ambassador for Value of Play in the Indian toy industry, pointed out that play is accessible only to the affluent. There’s a considerable gap between India and the world when it comes to the commercials of play. “In India, the per capita of games, toys or sports-related products on a single child does not cross $3 a year, as opposed to $300-400 in the US. The mindset of an average Indian towards play comes partly from limited resources,” Vivek states. 

“In India, the per capita of games, toys or sports-related products on a single child does not cross $3 a year, as opposed to $300-400 in the US”

— Vivek Jhangiani, Toybank Advisory Board Member & CEO, United Toys
Advisory Board Member Ratan Batliboi, Board Chair and Hon. Trustee at CRY, further stated that we do not need props, money, space or urban planning to play. It’s an innate behavioral shift that needs to transpire. The critical issue is how one can communicate the long-term change in a parent body and students.
Play v/s sport
Parents consider academics and extra-curricular activities as important and play does not figure in the scheme of things unless it’s a sport that can be taken up as a career. As key enablers, it’s important that parents understand why play is important. The fun of participation is initiated in a child through play, along with the joy of winning and learning from defeat; later come personality development, extroversion, etc. Learning to play with others and making new friends help make better kids. However, India is yet to realize these benefits; unlike Africa, which is comparable with us in terms of poverty and other issues. But they have a culture of sports that brings them out of their miseries and makes them better athletes.
We do not value play
The ecosystem for play is not quite conducive in India. Policies, lack of urban planning as well as encouragement by parents to send kids to play are some other issues. Toybank supporter Sumangali Gada, Founder and trustee at the PRAJA Foundation, reasoned that even if we get the why of play, we do not value it. “Though we want children to learn empathy, critical thinking and such values, we are at sea about how to actualize these qualities. There are barely any schools that walk the talk and espouse the values that play entails,” says she. 
Performance over play
One of the primary reasons why children do not get enough benefits of play is competitiveness. Nimesh Sumati of Caring Friends says we need to urge parents to not make kids compete but just play. This tendency has percolated to the lower strata of the society, with children facing peer pressure, with performance given more importance than play.

Lack of urban planning and parents encouraging children to play are other issues preventing the mainstreaming of Play.

Play is an add-on 
Taking Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs into consideration, with basic issues like food and literacy that India is faced with, play does not get the prominence it deserves, Samonnoi Banerjee, Bain Capital, Managing Director in the Healthcare and Technology, Media & Telecommunications Verticals stated. Play will always be an add-on. It will always be equal to recreation and not a conscious mechanism of development. Unless it is brought into people’s consciousness through a communication or a big campaign like Swachh Bharat, we may never fully comprehend its importance. He further observed that we are looking at a large-scale impact. Accessibility and affordability can be solved through some other ways if we admit that play is important and makes a difference.

The transformative power of play: More than just fun

In a world that often prioritises productivity and achievement, the importance of play can be easily overlooked. However, renowned psychiatrist Dr. Stuart Brown, in his inspiring TED Talk titled “Play Is More Than Just Fun,” sheds light on the profound impact that play has on our lives. At Toybank, we wholeheartedly believe in the transformative power of play and how it can shape the lives of children. 

In this blog post, we delve into Dr. Stuart Brown’s insightful talk and explore the significance of play in fostering creativity, resilience, and overall well-being.

  • Play as a fundamental need:
    Dr. Stuart Brown emphasises that play is not just an activity for children, but a fundamental need that extends throughout our lifespan. Play is the gateway to learning, exploration, and self-expression. It fuels our imagination, stimulates curiosity, and allows us to engage fully in the present moment.

  • The link between play and creativity:
    Dr. Brown highlights the strong connection between play and creativity. Through play, we discover new possibilities, experiment with different ideas, and cultivate innovative thinking. Whether it’s building with blocks, creating artwork, or engaging in imaginative play, children develop crucial problem-solving and critical thinking skills that lay the foundation for a lifetime of creativity.

  • Play as a catalyst for resilience:
    Play provides a safe space for children to navigate challenges, overcome obstacles, and develop resilience. As Dr. Brown explains, through playful experiences, children learn to adapt, collaborate, and persist in the face of setbacks. They build emotional resilience, learning to manage stress and regulate their emotions effectively.

  • The social benefits of play:
    Play also serves as a powerful tool for building social connections and fostering empathy. In play, children learn to navigate social dynamics, negotiate, and cooperate with others. They develop essential social skills such as communication, empathy, and conflict resolution, which are vital for building healthy relationships and thriving in a diverse society.

Dr. Stuart Brown’s enlightening TED Talk reinforces what we have always known at Toybank – play is more than just fun; it is a fundamental aspect of human development. By providing children with opportunities for play, we empower them to grow, learn, and express themselves. Play has the power to shape resilient, creative, and compassionate individuals who can positively impact society.

At Toybank, we are committed to creating safe and inclusive spaces where at-risk children can experience the transformative power of play. Through our play programmes, we strive to ensure that every child has the opportunity to explore, discover, and develop their full potential. 

Remember, play is not just a luxury; it is a necessity for a brighter and more fulfilling future.

Source: Play Is More Than Just Fun. TED Talk. Dr. Stuart Brown. (2008, May)


‘Adult memories of childhood play’ study: Path to brighter futures

In the 1980s, researcher Dr. Bergen and researchers Wen Liu and Geng Liu surveyed American and Chinese college students about what they remembered as the most important play experiences of their elementary years. 

The study, published in the International Journal of Educology in 1997, revealed that the majority of American college students remembered pretend play as the most significant play activity (52%), while the majority of Chinese students recalled games with rules as the most important activity (59%). Chinese students were more likely to say that their childhood play affected their personality (58%), while American students were more likely to say that play influenced their choice of vocation or hobbies as an adult (41% and 34%, respectively).

Even now I love to imagine myself doing something, then I set a goal and do it.

American students typically credited pretend play for their positive adult abilities

Despite these interesting cultural differences, the majority of Chinese and American students stated that their primary motivation for play was “fun.”

Games have made me brave, decisive, self-confident and able to deal with things quickly.

Chinese college student revealed how playing games with rules resulted in positive personality traits as an adult

There is no denying that play is fun, and certainly fun is its biggest draw. However, children also develop critical cognitive, emotional, social, and physical skills as they play. Research has shown that play contributes to proper brain development. The skills children learn through play in the early developmental years set the stage for future learning and success from the kindergarten classroom to the workplace.

Every day hundreds of children across Maharashtra embark on their journey of joyful discovery through Toybank’s play programmes. They are learning how to learn, how to get along with each other and deal with life’s situations all through the power of play.

Source: The Strong National Museum of Play. (n.d.). When I Was a Kid: Adult Memories of Play