Sharing a Legacy of Learning – Karin Howell's Story
Karin Howell spent her early career working as a kindergarten teacher in Switzerland, helping kids learn and explore new concepts. As she experimented with different teaching methods, she noticed how much more enthusiastic her young students were about learning if they were doing physical activities, and how much faster they picked up new concepts when they were playing games.
“The moment you get children out of their seats, playing. They’re engaged. You can see them start to become part of their future. It’s quite amazing.”
As her career progressed, Karin continued to explore the relationship between play and physical movement. She pursued studies in physical education with a specialization in Total Physical Response, a method for teaching language and vocabulary that uses physical movement to support learning. And she co-founded the Kids in Motion Foundation in 2003, with a mission to provide funding to programs that improve access to education in Africa.
In her work with the foundation, she saw an astonishing difference between how children engage with education in a traditional classroom model, where children sit and receive lessons with little room for discussion or discovery, and in those that employ play-based approaches and create opportunities for children participate in interactive games and activities specifically designed to support their learning.
When a friend asked Karin to support Right To Play’s fundraising efforts in Switzerland in 2004, it was easy for her to say yes to a meeting with founder Johann Olav Koss. As she listened to Johann’s vision for empowering children through play, she knew she’d found an organization that could match her own passion for education.
“I just believe so strongly in education for children. Children are the leaders of tomorrow. It's important to make sure that even when they face difficult circumstances, they still get the opportunity to be children.”
Breaking down barriers to education
Over the course of Karin’s more than 16 years of supporting Right To Play, she has provided important support to programs through her foundation, and served as a member of the Swiss Board of Directors, where she’s shared her invaluable expertise in play-based learning methodology.
These days, Karin is particularly focused on reducing barriers to education experienced by girls and children with disabilities. She's interested in how Right To Play teachers work with parents to sensitize them to the obstacles their children face in having equal access to education, and together finding ways to dismantle those barriers.
“Many girls wear dresses to school. Some parents worry that if their daughters run, their skirts could slip or be kicked up, so some won’t allow them to participate in physical activity. But when Right To Play coaches speak with the girls’ parents about solutions, like wearing shorts under their dresses, many feel more comfortable, and all of a sudden these girls have the opportunity to participate."
As a teacher, Karin knows that parental support and engagement are key to children’s educational success. She remembers a powerful moment in the Mara region of Tanzania where she saw children participating in public theatre and debates organized by Right To Play coaches. The whole community gathered together to watch and listen as youth discussed the importance of education, gender equality, and why girls should be allowed to play. It was immediately clear that something special was happening.
“Through these debates, the parents learned so much from the kids. Parents started to understand why it's important for their children to go to school, and they became a part of their empowerment and did everything they can to help. In that community, you saw parents putting their own time and money into building schools because they believed in it. I think it's very clear that Right To Play helps to get the community together and mobilize them on behalf of the child.”
Passing the love of learning to the next generation
Karin’s mission as a mom has been to share her love of education and engage her four children in becoming global citizens. When Karin’s sons were 12 and 10 years old, they joined her on a visit to Ghana to see Right To Play programs in action. They travelled from the city of Accra to a remote village in a northern region of the country, visiting classrooms and meeting children in the programs along the way. Connecting with children who were facing the challenges of poverty had a profound impact on her sons that has continued to shape them to this day.
“I cannot tell you how incredible it is, what my children learned from Right To Play. They’ve all grown up to be really engaged adults, interested in learning about the world and helping the environment. It’s very moving.”
As Karin looks toward Right To Play’s future, she hopes that the organization can expand to give more children around the globe access to quality education.
“It's so clear that children learn better when they are having fun. Empowering teachers to be able to adopt play in their classrooms and giving them the tools they need to support their students is so important.”