A powerful imagination is one of the most important tools a child can possess. But it needs to be cultivated and encouraged to develop its strength.

A powerful imagination is one of the most important tools a child can possess. But it needs to be cultivated and encouraged to develop its strength. Thanks to the Power of Play, a partnership between Right To Play and the Rwandan Education Board, over 20,000 students across Rwanda are benefiting from incredible opportunities to strengthen their creativity in specially-designed “experiential learning” lessons each year. Instead of rote memorization and copying notes from a blackboard, students learn new skills through hands-on projects that apply their new knowledge.

"What we do is more than creating play materials; it is helping build children’s life skills.”

The Power of Play partnership has been in place since 2016, but the 2018-2019 school year launched a new experiential learning science and technology curriculum aimed at Primary 5 and 6 students. These exciting classes supplement the existing play-based curriculum students across Rwanda are benefiting from.

One of the highlights of the new partnership is the “Make Your Own Play Materials” unit in science class. Children go out into the community to collect recycled and discarded objects and then use them to build new toys to play with and share. Each child gets the chance to design and build a toy of their choice. Some of the toys include turning banana fibers into balls and bottles into toy cars. A child’s imagination–and their ability to find the right objects–are the only limits to what they can build.

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Fabrice (11), a student in primary school in rural Rwanda, is one of 50 children in his science class who recently participated in the unit. He created a full-size bicycle using materials he found lying around near his home and the school. It not only got him learning about the mechanics of bicycles, but he found he was thinking more about environmental protection and how he could help people in his community do a better job of dealing with trash–it takes a lot of litter to make an entire bicycle!

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Solange (13), one of the other students, wants to be an obstetrician when she grows up. So she built herself a baby puppet to help her learn anatomy. “The puppet reminds me of the responsibility a mother has towards her children,” says Solange. “I play with it, take care of it as my mother used to do it for me when I was a baby. The puppet also teaches me the important parts of the body.”

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Adalene, the Right To Play-trained science teacher at their school who led the unit has noticed a difference in the class since the experiential learning unit began. “Getting my students focused, eager and on task during my class was very challenging,” she says. “This approach has transformed my teaching.”

“I want to inspire the creative and innovative thinking of my children."

But building toys isn’t the only activity children try out. In Grades 5 and 6, children are brought together to redesign their school’s playground. The children work in teams to analyze their existing facilities, design changes to make the space more enjoyable and then plan out the construction. Local architects come in to work with the teams of children, creating a single master plan that is shown to the community to win their support.

The teams learn to cooperate and negotiate with one another, to share ideas and knowledge and to work on a long-term project that benefits everyone. Girls and boys in primary school quickly come to understand that through determination and cooperation, they can make lasting change in their communities.

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Since 2016, the Rwandan Board of Education has been preparing to integrate experiential learning into its schools with Right To Play providing expertise and guidance to the process.

Shifting Rwanda’s primary schools to this approach was a groundbreaking decision by the Rwandan Board of Education, motivated by the desire to foster the imagination and capacity for innovation in children. The experiential style of learning combines academic development with practices that cultivate crucial qualities of character: confidence, creativity and self-reliance that are essential for the citizens and entrepreneurs of the future.

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The Rwandan Board of Education wants primary students in every school to benefit from experiential learning, as quickly as teachers can be trained to use it. To meet that goal, they have established a partnership with Right To Play to transform primary education throughout Rwanda, ensuring that every child will be empowered to create and innovate.