Enabling learning through play: Innovation Award

Children play and learn after school hours in Kenya library’s ‘Play Bunk’ programme

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Children playing giant scrabble on a board in the library.
Learning through play - Giant Scrabble.

Storytelling, drawing and painting, drama, building objects out of safe waste, LEGO, free play, board games like chess and scrabble - they are all available for children to learn through play at Eastlands Library in Kenya.

The library’s ‘Play Bunk’ programme offers play-time in the library after school hours to children from a densely populated but underserved area of Nairobi. Eastlands Library is extremely busy: from January to December 2022, the library served an average of almost 2,000 people a month. Most of the library users were children, their caregivers and young adults.

“We hosted a play-day in May 2022 for library users and members of the Eastlands Library team. On this day we were able to test games with the community, and design future play days. Then we held a training session facilitated by Care for Education in partnership with the LEGO Foundation, and our librarians learnt more about how to engage children in fun learning activities,” said Marianne Wamuyu of Book Bunk, a social impact organization that is supporting restoration of three Nairobi libraries in partnership with Nairobi City County’s government.

“We introduced weekly play-days and by June 2022, 100 children were playing our selection of games,” said Marianne. Word about ‘Play Bunk' spread, and by August, over 200 children were taking part in the programme.

Six learning through play activities

All children are welcome, with most participants aged 4 - 16 years. Play Bunk offers six activities to encourage learning through play -

  • Play goggles - these are maker-spaces in which children create objects from safe waste collected by the library. While playing, the children learn about everyday recycling and repurposing waste materials.
  • More play in our day - these are facilitated sessions, in which caregivers join their children to learn how to incorporate constructive play into everyday tasks at home.
  • Playbox - the children use their imagination to design environments with buildings and people, using DUPLO and LEGO plastic bricks and parts. 
  • “Yes, and...” - children listen to a story led by a local storyteller and then continue the narrative through art, writing, acting or dance, with other children and caregivers
  • Create with almost nothing - Children and carers follow simple instructions to play improvised games that require (almost) nothing to spark their imaginations, creativity and collective joy.
  • Play Space - The library creates spaces for play, including at an outdoor terrace constructed as part of the library’s restoration by Book Bunk and its partners. This is a particular focus during school holidays, when the library is filled to capacity.

Orpah Ogunda, a teacher, is an active participant in ‘Play Bunk’ along with her five children. She says: “Play Bunk has encouraged my kids to be social by learning how to share among themselves as well as with the children they interact with in the library. The young ones have also improved their finger muscles, motor skills and eye and hand coordination by playing with the plastic bricks. The programme has created a safe environment for the kids. We as parents can leave our children to play in the library and go about our day-to-day work with the knowledge that they are safe at the library.”

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