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Annual Report 2016-17: Play without prejudice

Children know no malice – unacquainted as they are with the biases of religion, caste, race, or class.


Annual Report 2017-18: Power of play

The mountain of rings is a riot of colours, like looping the rainbow!

It may seem simple, but the stacking activity is replete with benefits. It teaches about colours and sizes perception along with problem-solving; enhances coordination movement, stimulates visual development, strengthens the sense of touch and improves motor skills – just like play at large.


Annual Report 2018-19: Reaching a milestone

Toybank is a journey we embarked on — to give every child in the world a toy to play with — 15 years ago. As we reach this significant milestone, our heart is brimming with not only pride for touching the lives of tens of thousands of children but also immense gratitude towards those who have helped us every step of the way to get here.


Play helps children build skills to become creative, engaging adults

Play is the primary way in which young children connect and engage with the world around them. Through play, children may imagine and explore a world they can control, thus overcoming their fears. When playing together, children are not just having fun, but are building skills of communication and collaboration that will benefit them in the long-run. As we move into adulthood, our definitions of play change, but many motivations remain the same, which help us form a framework of play across ages. 

Beginning in the first year of life, play becomes an infant’s primary mode for engaging with others and with the world, setting the bar for interactions with the world to be as pleasurable as play throughout the life-span. Attuned play encourages a child to grow up to be a playful adult who experiences life as a playground. This is not only an expression of healthy development, it is also an inherent characteristic of homosapiens. Unfortunately, not every child is so lucky. According to the original research on attachment styles conducted by psychologist Mary Ainsworth, up to 50 percent of individuals do not have secure attachment experiences. Without attachment security, these children are much more likely to grow up seeing the world as a proving ground, a battleground, or a prison. These worldviews can become self-fulfilling prophecies, establishing feedback loops that engender the world the child expects. 

In the past few decades, research has repeatedly shown that play experiences are not merely fun, nor just a way to pass the time along the way to adulthood. Instead, play has a central role in learning and in preparing you for challenges later on in childhood and through adulthood. The Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky says that play is essential to the growth of what is referred to as “symbolic representation”. The ability of humans to use different types of symbolic representation for culturally significant purposes is the foundation of human thought, culture, and communication. 

Psychologist Sigmund Freud has also correlated early-childhood experiences with mental health in adulthood; but only in the last half century has play been included as one these formative childhood experiences and a factor in healthy development. 

Today’s world is uncertain and constantly changing. Children need skills and mindsets allowing them to step into this uncertainty, create opportunities for themselves and their communities, and learn throughout life. Using the simple, yet compelling words by researchers Golinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek (2016), realising children’s potential in the face of this uncertainty means supporting them to be “happy, healthy, thinking, caring, and social children who will become collaborative, creative, competent, and responsible citizens tomorrow”. 

In playful experiences, children tap into a breadth of skills at any one time. A game of hide-and-seek helps them to manage feelings about the unknown, while also helping them to think about what other people know and see. Beyond enjoyment, playful experiences have the potential to give children the skills they will need in the future that go beyond facts. Playful experiences appear to be a powerful mechanism that help children not only to be happy and healthy in their lives today, but also develop the skills to be the creative, engaged, lifelong learners of tomorrow.

The benefits of playfulness in adults overlaps in many ways with those for children, including enhanced creativity, humour, motivation, and positive effect. In addition, playfulness predicts numerous health benefits in both children and adults. Research shows that playful adults live an average of 10 years longer than their less playful peers. Perhaps most significant of the benefits conferred by a playful approach to life is its relationship to stress reduction and coping strategies in adults.

The real world, in any case, is often a politically violent and an economically insecure place—anything but a playground. Is it possible that the condition of our world both reflects and reinforces a prevailing degree of attachment insecurity. If so, the greatest hope for interrupting this dangerous feedback loop is to support and restore a basic sense of security generated, reflected, and reinforced by attuned play. Not only does play provide critical resources for dealing with stress and engendering well-being as adults, but repeated play can also rewire the brain, establishing and reinforcing the neural pathways that lead to the development of playfulness.

Source: Origins of Play and Playfulness, Gwen Gordon; Lego Foundation, learning through play, nov 2017; Guided Play:Where Curricular Goals Meet a Playful Pedagogy, Deena Skolnick Weisberg, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, and RobertaMichnick Golinkoff, 2013; Learning through play, Lego Foundation, February 2019; The future of play, Lego Learning Institute


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