Enhancing Early Childhood Development Through Play

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From Mkopeka, a small village in Zambia’s Eastern Province, Nzovwa Sakala is pictured here with Eunice, the youngest of six children.
From Mkopeka, a small village in Zambia’s Eastern Province, Nzovwa Sakala is pictured here with Eunice, the youngest of six children.
Photo: Right to Care Zambia
To encourage my child to walk, I play with her with a ball. I toss the ball in front of her, [and] as she tries to pick up the ball, she is learning to walk.

The mother of six children, Nzovwa Sakala lives in Mkopeka, a small village in Zambia’s Eastern Province.  When her youngest child, Eunice, was five months old, they joined a SUpErCDZ parenting support group.  Through the group meetings, Nzovwa learned about the important role of play and nutrition in a child’s development.

“Before I joined the parenting group, I did not know that child stimulation starts when a baby is still in the womb or at what age a parent should start playing and talking to their child,” says Nzovwa. “ I did not know that it is important to not only keep the child clean, but also the house so that the child can grow well. I do these things for Eunice. I sing for her, I play and talk with her, I let her lie down on my belly.” 

The early years in a child’s life are key to their healthy long-term development, productivity, and social cohesion.  Nurturing and supporting early childhood development is a priority for USAID as it has been shown to improve physical, cognitive, social and emotional outcomes for children from birth to age eight. 

Through Scaling Up Early Childhood Development in Zambia (SUpErCDZ, pronounced “Super Kids”), USAID supports early childhood development activities in Zambia’s Southern and Eastern provinces.  SUpErCDZ is a three-year activity co-funded by USAID/Zambia and Grand Challenges Canada, and is implemented by Right to Care Zambia in partnership with Boston University, Swiss Tropical and the Public Health Institute.

SUpErCDZ works with local community-based volunteers and health facility staff to establish and deliver an early childhood development curriculum to community-based parenting support groups.  Using a theatre-based delivery approach and locally available resources, these groups engage caregivers to enhance their ability to respond to the needs of young children through topics that include cognitive stimulation, child nutrition and cooking practices, and positive parenting. 

Thanks to the parenting support groups, Nzovwa now makes time to play with Eunice and engage her in activities that stimulate physical development. She has even learned how to make toys out of items that she already has in her home, including a pink ball made from old bags and string. 

“To encourage my child to walk, I play with her with a ball. I toss the ball in front of her, [and] as she tries to pick up the ball, she is learning to walk.” 
Good nutrition is another key aspect in early childhood development. In Zambia, malnutrition remains a challenge as high stunting and wasting rates heavily impact childhood development.  Through the SUpErCDZ program, Nzovwa has gained the skills to prepare nutritionally adequate and diverse meals for Eunice that use locally available ingredients. 

“In the parenting groups, we are also learning how to cook good food for our children. In one meeting, we learned how to cook porridge with pounded groundnuts, and pounded pumpkin leaves.” 

Last updated: August 05, 2021

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