Lively Minds - Community-run Play Centres

Lively Minds - Community-run Play Centres

Education, health & empowerment through play

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Last Update: October 16, 2014

We train uneducated vulnerable Mothers in highly deprived rural villages to run educational Play Centres for pre-school children using local materials. This enhances the Mothers' wellbeing & parenting skills and empowers them to improve their children's education and health through play.

Founded: 2008 Type: citizen sector

The Problem

We work in highly deprived rural villages in Uganda where there are no primary schools or kindergartens. Children have no books or toys. Most parents are uneducated and haven't been taught childcare practices. As poverty is all they've known they have low aspirations for themselves and their children. This harms child development and prevents children developing the creative-thinking skills & "can do" mindsets they need to break out of poverty.

The Solution

We train uneducated Mothers to run educational Play Centres for all the village pre-schoolers. Centres are in any village building and use cheap locally-made games. Play-based teaching in small groups (1:4 child-parent) creates a fun, interactive & caring environment. Health & hygiene activities are incorporated. We provide parenting & 2nd chance learning workshops for the Mothers to incentivise them, improve their home-based play & care and confidence & well-being. Each Play Centre takes 2 months to set up & benefits 160 children every year - enhancing their cognitive, socio-emotional, physical & language development. It's a cheap, sustainable and scalable way to empower the most deprived families to provide early learning through play.


4 year old orphan James lives in Isikwe village, Uganda. There's no school here. There was little play or stimulation at home because his grandma, Joy, didn't go to school and was never taught vital childcare practices. We trained Joy, along with 35 other Mothers to run a Play Centre in Isikwe. These women volunteer to teach all the pre-school children (including James). James has learnt numeracy, literacy, problem-solving, concentration & social skills through play. Joy has learnt how to prevent malaria and diarrhea, how to improve nutrition & how to educate her grandkids through play at home. It's transformed her life too. She's gained a peer support group and the confidence and drive to improve her family & community.


Over the past 5 years we've trained over 2200 Mothers, like Joy, to run 80 Play Centres in Uganda and Ghana reaching over 14,000 children. Our monitoring shows Centres in both countries operating well year on year. Cognitive tests on 758 children from both countries (mean age 4.8) show a mean baseline score of 55% correct answers, highlighting the need for this project. After just 3 months there was an 52% increase in Mothers providing stimulating activities and playing with their children at home. After 6 months children's cognitive test scores increased by 51.5% & incidence of diarrhea decreased by 32%. Mothers report great improvement in their children's abilities and also increases in their self-confidence, peer support and improved relationships with their children. Joy says "We were low, people would minimize us. But now we can teach... The children have learnt & developed."

Full Impact Potential

There are so many deprived children in Uganda & the developing world urgently needing this project. Our long-term goal is for governments of Ghana & Uganda to adopt our program and scale it nationally. To achieve this we're currently switching to a training of trainers model - training & supporting teachers (in Ghana)and community health workers & high performing Mothers (Uganda) to deliver the program. This would give huge reach, minimize cost & increase sustainability & strengthen existing systems. We also increase impact in our villages by partnering other NGOs to bring in new projects.

Budget: $100,000 - $250,000

Financial Sources

Individuals, Foundations, NGO, Businesses, National government, Other

Sustainability Plan

Centres are run for free by Mothers using local materials. Our main costs are salaries & transport. Current funds are from grants and earned-income. Our new training of trainers model reduces costs by using existing delivery channels & generating economies of scale. Our goal is to get government funding for roll-out. We'll do this by relationship-building; increasing visibility; generating evidence through control trials & working tirelessly!


Most early years initiatives in Uganda focus on private nursery provision. Ours is a behavior-change program that unlocks the potential of marginalised parents, transforming their mindsets & empowering them to provide quality learning & care through play. It promotes volunteerism & the use of local materials, encouraging self-sufficiency & creativity rather than dependency. It's fun, sustainable, cost-effective and has wide reach. Our model can be adapted - e.g in Ghana Play Centres are mainstreamed into public Kindergartens - & quickly replicated to reach the most deprived communities.

Founding Story

On a volunteer trip to Ghana, our founder Alison Naftalin saw that children didn't receive play-based or creative learning opportunities and so weren't developing critical thinking skills. She started an educational Play Centre in the village she was staying to give young children the chance to learn through play. Making games from local materials and training mothers from the village to run the Centre themselves. The effect was electric. The children loved learning and quickly developed new skills. As did the Mothers. A neighbouring village requested a Centre, then another and so on. Realising the potential Alison recruited & trained local staff to replicate the model. She also travelled to Uganda and replicated here too.

Team Explanation

We have 8 staff in our Ugandan team and 11 in Ghana. All are local & were selected for their passion & expertise in rural development & education and for their "lively minds." Play Centres are run & owned by the communities themselves. Long-term aim is for local teams to be self-sufficient. Our small UK team (Founder/CEO, part-time fundraiser & part-time child development expert) fundraise, provide technical expertise & capacity-building.

Team Members

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We train and empower groups of uneducated mothers in rural communities in Ghana and Uganda. These women are keen to receive further development opportunities.   If you work in Northern Ghana or Eastern Uganda & are looking for communities to work in why not work with our women?  ...

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Comments & Activity

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Comments & Activity


Timlynn Babitsky profile img
Thu, 06/05/2014 - 12:00

Congratulations on being named a Player to Watch on the #Play2Learn challenge. Your project is excellent. Good luck for continued success.

Elizabeth Garcia profile img
Thu, 06/05/2014 - 18:56

Congratulations to your team! These children are fortunate to have you. As an educator myself, I am sure you feel fortunate to have them as well. Such an inspiring project!

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 03:55

Cool!!!! Congratulations for the success you have attained. This is interesting, i believe by such continuing efforts we can impact our education system. Long live guys.

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 04:08

Excellent, and keep going! Your activities develop brain architecture in the brain that are the foundations for all future learning.
Congratulations on being named a Player to Watch.