Lively Minds - Community-run Play Centres

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Lively Minds - Community-run Play Centres: Education, health & empowerment through play

Jinja, UgandaLondon, United Kingdom
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

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.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

Uneducated mothers living in extreme poverty could run Play Centres to educate millions of children, giving them the chance for a brighter futur
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

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.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

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.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

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.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact.

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: What are the main spread strategies moving forward?

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.

Funding: How is your project financially supported? Select all that apply

  • Individuals
  • Foundations
  • NGO
  • Businesses
  • National government
  • Other

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution's plan to ensure this initiative's financial sustainability?

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!

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

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.


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.
About You
Lively Minds
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name

Lively Minds

How long has your organization been operating?

Please select

Organization Country

, London

Country where this project is creating social impact
What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Individuals, Foundations, NGOs, Businesses, National government, Other.


Best Charity, Ghana-UK Based Achievement Awards 2013
Founder & CEO winner of Volunteer Award, UK Civil Service Awards 2011

Primary Target Age Group

3 - 5.

Your role in Education

After-School Provider.

Please specify which of the following best applies:

I am applying on behalf of a particular program or initiative.

The type of school(s) your solution is affiliated with (if applicable)

Intervention Focus

Childcare, Extracurricular, Community, Parenting.

Does your project utilize any of the innovative design principles below?

Equip Adults to Drive Change in Learning: Providing creative learning experiences for teachers, parents, working professions and others that empowers them to drive change in any part of the learning ecosystem.

Is your project targeted at solving any of the following key barriers?

Whole child development is undervalued: Essential parts of development get left behind as children get older, such as healthy habits, executive function, and social and emotional learning.

What key learning outcomes does your work seek to improve?

1)Outcomes for beneficiary children to improve school-readiness:-
- Higher cognitive functions (memory, planning, concentration, creativity, problem-solving)
- Numeracy, literacy, colour recognition, colours, shapes
- Socio-emotional skills (turn-taking, sharing, helping others, listening, independence)
-Language development
- Fine & gross motor skills
- Hygiene

2) Learning outcomes for Mothers
- Parenting/child-rearing
- Hygiene & health
- Basic numeracy & literacy

3) For ECCE field
- Effectiveness & Feasibility of play-based community-run ECCE interventions in Africa

Secondary Form
PROGRAM DESIGN CLARITY: We are hungry to know more about what exactly your model consists of. Please succinctly list a) what main activities are you doing with your beneficiaries, b) where you carry out the activities? c) how often? d) for how many hours? e) who delivers the services? and f) any other brief details

In our current approach, our staff train 30 Mothers to run Play Centres (9 workshops x 2hrs) & support them through monitoring visits (24 per year, 2hrs) & parenting/lifeskills workshops (x1 per month, 2hrs). Activities take place in the community building chosen to be the Play Centre (any rudimentary building). Mothers then run Play Centres x4 per week for 160 children.

INSPIRATION: What do you consider the most important trends or evidence that inspire you to believe the world is ready to Re-imagine Learning? Please elaborate.

A mother in Uganda said to me "I was born into poverty and will die in poverty. So will my children". She'd never had creative learning chances and her lack of imagination & aspiration stopped her taking small steps to improve her life and her children's. Taking part in our Play Centre project transformed her. She'd never been to school, but saw she could learn and teach her children through play. She realised that change is possible. I learnt that tackling mindsets and encouraging people to re-imagine learning is the most powerful tool for change in the poorest communities.

LEARNING THROUGH PLAY: What does “learning through play” mean to you and why it is a must-have, instead of a nice to have?

Play is fun. Whilst I'll argue that this makes it a hugely effective learning tool, this enjoyment factor means it's often trivialised as a luxury. It's not. Play is a serious necessity. For example, dominos teach children counting, matching, concentration, turn-taking, winning & losing. Building games stimulate curiosity, problem-solving & imagination. A game of football increases physical strength, dexterity & teamwork. These skills develop creative, inquiring and innovative minds that children & the world need as we face ever increasingly complex challenges.

SUSTAINABILITY: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating the percentage that comes from each source.

Our income for 2013 was $292,000. This is broken down as follows:-
Grants - 73%
Individual donations - 12%
Events & challenge events - 7%
Earned income - 6%
Company giving - 2%

MODEL: How does your mission relate to your business model (i.e. Non-profit, for-profit or hybrid)?

We are a non-profit model. We do not charge our service-users as we target the most deprived communities. To keep costs low and to increase sustainability and empowerment, we train local Volunteer Mother to run the project themselves for free.

FUNDING PRIORITIES: If your organization were given $20K in unrestricted funding today, how would you use it? Why?

We'd set up and support 3 new Play Centres in deprived villages- training 90 uneducated Mothers to teach 480 children aged 3-6 each week. We'd monitor the Centres closely and hold monthly parenting workshops. These Schemes would run long into the future helping hundreds more kids each year.

PARTNERSHIPS: Tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

We work in partnership with the government agencies responsible for education & community development. They're closely involved in selecting & mobilising the communities and supporting the Mothers. In Ghana, Play Centres are mainstreamed into primary schools and are supervised by teachers and district inspectors. We also partner organisations who provide community-based programs - to benefit from cost savings and double-down on impact.

COLLABORATIONS: Have you considered or initiated partnerships with any of the other Challenge Pacesetters? If so, please share.

We have discussed collaborations - particularly those focussed on teacher training and parenting. We are interested in sharing common problems, solutions, training content, approaches and evaluation tools. We're also interested in forging advocacy alliances with organisations in Ghana & Uganda.

VISION: If you had unlimited funding, and you could fast forward 15 years to when your program has been able to achieve wild success - what will it have achieved?

Our program will have been adopted and funded by the Ugandan and Ghanaian governments - reaching millions at low cost. There would be a large cadre of trained outreach workers & teachers who are responsible for setting-up and supporting Play Centres as part of their regular professional duties. There would be a raised understanding of the importance of play, and the importance of volunteerism nationally.

IMPACT - KEY METRICS: Please list the key data points that you would cite as evidence that you are able to achieve lasting learning outcomes. Please also share one data point for which you most hope to see better results over time

1) Children's school readiness- we conduct cognitive/social skills assessments at baseline and 3 & 6 months after Play Centre. This is where we most hope to see better results over time.
2) Mothers uptake of training - we monitor Play Centres & homes for attendance, compliance with standards & implementation of learning.
3) Wellbeing - we conduct assessments on mothers at baseline, 3 & 6 months.

IMPACT - REPORTING SAMPLE: Please attach any examples of your impact reporting. [optional]:
RESEARCH AND EVIDENCE: Please link or attach any research or evidence resource you are open to sharing more widely [optional]. Building research and evidence is a key aim of this initiative, and the resources you share may be chosen for listing in the Center for Education Innovations library:
SOURCE: If applicable - who created the research or evidence you are choosing to share? :
IMPACT - REACH: How many people did your project directly engage in programmatic activities in the last year?

1,001 to 10,000

STUDY: Has an external evaluation or study been conducted of your organization?

In progress

Other (please specify)
Number of Employees:


Number of Volunteers:

Please select

APPROACHES: Given the complexity of play, it is not surprising that there have been numerous research attempts to categorize the different types and approaches! Please indicate which of the following your project focuses on.

Physical Play, Play with Objects, Symbolic Play, Pretence/ Socio-Dramatic Play, Games with Rules, Creating a Supportive Socio-Emotional Environment, Providing a Range of Opportunities (providing the equipment and materials needed for various types of play), Educational Structuring (developing playful projects within educational contexts), Adults Participating (Ensuring adults are able to play alongside children).

Other (please specify)
AFFILIATION: Please specify if your organization has any existing affiliations with the LEGO Group.


Timlynn Babitsky's picture

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

Elizabeth Garcia's picture

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!

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.

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.