The Sandbox

Playjam

Playjam reimagines early childhood education with an emphasis on parental bonding and social learning through play. The jams are real world community events supported by a digital backbone that handles student record keeping, lesson planning and learning path management.


Table of Contents

  1. ECE – The Current State
  2. Creating a Learning Bridge
  3. Questions and a framework
  4. Creating Support Infrastructure
  5. Building a Digital Backbone
  6. Creating Community Access
  7. Next Steps

The current state of Early Childhood Education

Preschools in India are among the fastest-growing sectors in recent years. A lack of stringent regulation of the type applied to higher secondary education has led to an explosion of preschool chains, each offering their own unique methodologies. The number of chains in themselves pales before the neighbourhood garage preschools that dot Indian cities and towns.

The pros of this explosion in early childhood education is clearly good for a society that has traditionally suffered from low uptake in education. However the wild-west mentality also means that children are subject to unfounded and unreliable educational frameworks.

Another key concern is the decline in constructivist methods of learning over rote learning in ages as early as two years. Children being pushed to learning the alphabet over learning meta-cognitive skills such as problem-solving or social interaction.

Another frustrating issue stems from the total outsourcing of early education by overworked parents. Parental bonding in early learning has consistently been demonstrated as a key factor in long term learning potential.

Creating a learning bridge

What if we looked at early childhood learning in another way. Instead of seeing learning as divided between school and home, what if we saw learning as a constant. The child learns regardless of the context set by well-meaning adults.

Play Jams are play sessions are communities of practice in which children learn from each other. Parents and educators also have the opportunity to enhance their own teaching knowledge.

Playjams are conducted in a variety of locations, typically community spaces such as parks and libraries. Here, children learn to be naturalists, by studying and drawing material that they foraged in a park.

Framing questions to develop a framework

We asked ourselves some questions to develop a needs framework for Playjam.

  • What if parental bonding was baked into the framework?
  • What if the child could pick its own learning pathway assisted by an intelligent system?
  • What if the learning curriculum reflected real-world needs, and not based on the school or board’s curriculum development cycle?
  • What if the school came to the child, instead of the child going to the school?
  • What if teacher education occurred in parallel to the education of the child?

Building Support Infrastructure

Playjam re-imagines learning as a series of community jams. Built on observation of children at play, Playjam offers a semi-structured, guided method for exploring a range of subjects, through fun play jams. To help build the digital infrastructure, we first conducted a series of physical sessions to understand what play sessions may look like.

The project was rolled out through a series of workshops with parents, conducted across a range of locations in Bangalore. Each session was pre-designed to fit a specific subject in a latticework of topics co-created with experts.

We built a comprehensive lattice of subjects that were taught using play and arts based themes. The system maintained a unique learning pathway for each child, based on her interests.

We conducted a total of 46 Playjams in all, each designed around a completely new subject. The typical jam session involved parents working alongside children on play or craft projects. Emphasis was paid on nurturing a maker mindset and communicating the importance of parental bonding in early education.


“Through Facebook, I discovered Playjam sessions and we loved the format. Participants brought their own materials (things you find at home), work on a theme and create something along with their parent/guardian. They have fantastic insights and advice on working with children, experimenting with different mediums and nurturing creativity.”

Sanjana Govindan, Parent

The project spread largely by word of mouth, and through social media announcements. It also received some coverage in the media for its unique take on early education via its ‘rolling-school’ model.

Speaking on Socio-emotional learning in Early Childhood at an educator’s conference by The Teacher Foundation

Building a Digital backbone

Playjams were designed to be conducted in the physical world. The children in themselves never use an app during the Jams. However, we still required a digital backbone for the Playjam framework. The role of the digital infrastructure was to automate everything that a school would typically do. These included:

  • Maintaining student and learning records
  • Maintaining a learning pathway for each child
  • Maintaining a digital portfolio of lessons completed
  • Providing lesson plans with a breakdown of material needed
  • Providing supplementary material such as worksheets
  • Maintaining and updating the pedagogical framework
  • Providing teachers with meta descriptions for each lesson, alongside learning benefits
  • Maintaining a teacher experience record
Developing the flow, starting from on-boarding each student to providing teachers or guardians with progress reports

Automating such things allows teachers to focus on teaching and upgrading their knowledge. The modularity of the system means that lessons could be updated to support local knowledge and resources.

Community hosted Playjams

We also designed a preliminary prototype for a community-hosted events platform that allowed anyone to start a Playjam in their community. The platform allowed teachers, or parents in homeschooling networks to pick a subject and announce the Playjam. All participants who register automatically receive lessons plans and worksheets with learning objectives outlined, before the jam.

See the Prototype website here

Playing with other children, alongside their parents helps children associate learning as a part of family and social life and not just with school hours

Next Steps for Playjam

In future versions of this project we would like to explore:

  • The potential for communities to self-organise around rolling schools
  • Chain-linking urban jams with jams in rural areas through remote video
  • The idea of a preschool-in-a-pocket system of learning, delivered via a mobile app – to act as a support system for Playjams
  • Building pedagogical systems that recommend updates to syllabi based on real-world cycles, as opposed to school purchase cycles.

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