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Learning Through Play


Early Childhood Development Resources and Training
Helping parents give their young children the best start possible in life

The purpose of the LTP International Project is to improve the health and well being of children and their long-term mental health development. An opening statement in a recent paper from the World Health Organization said, "Without mental health there is no health". The SickKids Centre for Community Mental Health aims to complement the exceptional work done internationally on the physical health of young children with the needed focus on mental health.

The objectives of the LTP program are: (a) to provide parents with information on the healthy growth and development of young children (birth to 6 years), focussing on the physical, intellectual, linguistic, and socio-emotional aspects of development; (b) to teach parents play activities that enhance child development; and c) to promote attachment through active parental involvement in their child's development.

Current research shows that early childhood experiences have a major impact on brain structure. These early experiences literally shape the way children learn, think, behave, and interact with others throughout the course of their lifetime. Parents around the world want their children to develop this capacity to thrive. As such, it is important that parents and caregivers understand the essential role they play in contributing to the promotion of holistic and healthy development in their children from birth to 6 years of age. In addition, healthy child development may reduce the risk of adverse developmental outcomes and the need for more costly interventions later in life.

The SickKids Centre for Community Mental Health is a children's mental health facility that is dedicated to delivering optimal mental health services to infants, children, youth, and their families, and promoting healthy psychosocial functioning and development in communities. To achieve this goal, the Centre provides an integrated combination of mental health services, including prevention, early intervention, treatment, education, and research. The Centre is dedicated to promoting the healthy and adaptive development of children in Toronto, Canada, and internationally. One of the ways it does this internationally is through an early child development program called Learning Through Play.

The Learning Through Play program utilizes low-literacy, multicultural materials to provide information about the physical, cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional aspects of child development. The program provides training and support to front- line community workers, who in turn provide this vital information to parents. The Learning Through Play (LTP) resources are pictorial "calendars" that depict the successive stages of child development, along with brief descriptions of simple play activities that show parents what they can do to promote healthy child development. They are called "calendars" because parents literally hang the materials on the walls in their homes to allow for easy reference. The LTP Calendars encourage parental involvement, creativity, learning, and parent-child attachment. They have been culturally interpreted with respect to their illustrations, language, concepts, and values to ensure widespread acceptability. The LTP Calendars have been translated into eleven languages, along with five additional languages from India in development. These materials have been used in 300 programs throughout Canada with great success, including parent education groups, and home visiting programs.

The most innovative aspects of the LTP program are: (a) its emphasis on parent-child play as a means to promote learning and attachment; (b) its use of a hands-on approach that emphasizes learning through demonstration and practice; (c) its use of a simple, low-literacy, pictorial format that presents information about successive stages of child development; (d) its sensitivity with respect to illustrations, language, concepts, and values; and (e) its availability in many languages.

The LTP program's content is consistent with the World Health Organization's (WHO) definition of health with regards to its emphasis on teaching all of the essential aspects of child development (physical, cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional). As well, the LTP program's emphasis on promoting attachment is congruent with the Health Canada Report (1999), which states that a loving, secure attachment between parents and babies in the first 18 months of life helps children to develop trust, self-esteem, emotional control, and the ability to have positive relationships later in life.

LTP is now being used in more than 25 countries, and is translated into 36 languages.

Typically the LTP program partners with one agency in each country. Initial training will be provided to 20-25 child focused community workers. At least one master trainer will be identified, trained and supported by the LTP program in each country or major state to sustain the work. The master trainers provide training in LTP to local health, community or child education workers. Each local worker in turn will provide training to about 25 parents

Research on the LTP Program

The research results on the LTP program have been very positive. In a controlled research design in Pakistan the LTP program was well received by the mothers and successfully integrated into the existing health infrastructure at a minimal cost. The results showed significant increase in the mother's knowledge and positive attitudes towards their infant's development, as well as significant reduction in symptoms of mental distress in the mothers. It is important to note that this may be the first study that examines the suitability and applicability of a psychological intervention in a disadvantaged rural population in a developing country. It is our goal to continue and expand the success of this groundbreaking project.

Thank you to:
  • DFATD (formerly Canadian International Development Agency) for financial support.
  • Donors who have made this project possible.
  • SickKids Centre for Community Mental Health staff who have generously volunteered their time.
For more information, please contact Wylie Burke, Interim Director, Gail Appel Institute, wburke@hincksdellcrest.org