Let’s Talk Play in ECD

Are you passionate about play?! February 2023 is being celebrated as play month under the theme “The passion for play”. Play should be encouraged and included in the daily activities of children because it influences the way they learn and develop. The more children engage in play, the more conscious they are of their environment and how it works. It is also important to note that, aside from the cognitive benefits of play, there are also social, physical and therapeutic benefits which allows children to socialize with peers, learn effective communication and negotiation skills (Anderson-McNamee, 2010).

Did you know that there are different forms of play? Let’s take a look at three different types of play in Early Childhood Development.


Source: parentingnow.org

Creative play allows children to express their creativity and imagination. This form of play is considered as open-ended play because there is no end results or outcome as the children are free to create whatever they want. Just take a peek at the picture above, the children are provided with blocks of different colours and sizes. You can see that they are working together and using their imaginations to create a masterpiece. You may never know, it could be a house, bus or even a dinosaur. Forms of creative play include Arts, singing, dancing, role play and storytelling.

Some benefits of creative play are: It encourages creativity in children, allows children to express themselves freely, aid in the development of their fine motor skills and allows children to explore new ideas.


Source: pixnio.com

Free Play is when children have the freedom to choose their activities and areas of focus. This type of play is unstructured and voluntary. During free play, children are able to express their creativity through play. Forms of free play include Sand and water play, dress up play, symbolic play, building puzzles and process art.

Some benefits of free play are: It teaches independence, allows children to discover their interest and skills and create decision making skills.



Outdoor play is one of the things that characterize childhood (Johnson et al, 2010). Outdoor play provides children with the opportunity to explore the natural environment. Outdoor play also allows children to develop more advance motor skills. Some forms of outdoor play include climbing, swinging, cycling, bat and ball and running.

Some benefits of outdoor play are exposure to vitamin D through exposure to the sun, enhances physical development and promotes advance motor skills.

Let’s get passionate about play in ECD because “Play is the answer to how anything new comes about”- Jean Piaget



The early years of a child’s life are the most important years, as it is during this stage that the brain develops rapidly (Davies, 2008).  Realizing the importance of a holistic development is very important for young children, especially as they transition into older years, the Early Childhood Commission (ECC), in alignment with the National Strategic Plan (NSP3), Internal Process 3:  Early and Effective Screening, Diagnosis and Intervention for “at risk” children and households, continues to develop and improve the tools that are available within the sector to screen for early detection of learning and developmental delays in children. 

This article will continue to highlight the progress of the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector in the successful development and implementation of developmental screening and intervention tools.  The last article focused on the Jamaica School Readiness Assessment, this article will focus on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire Jamaica (ASQ-J); What is the ASQ-J? How is the ASQ-J administered? and What are the current updates on the ASQ-J? 

What are the Ages and Stages Questionnaires?

The ASQ-J was design to screen the five domains of development in young children:  communication, personal-social, problem solving, fine motor and gross motor skills.  There are three questionnaires in the series: 48 Months, 54 Months and 60 Months.  The ASQ-J includes a total of 20 questions, that are design for administration base on the child’s chronological age at the date of administration.

Process in Administrating the Ages and Stages Questionnaires

Before administering the ASQ-J, the child’s chronological age must first be calculated.  In calculating the child’s chronological age, the child’s date of birth is subtracted from the date the questionnaire is being administered. This is done to determine if which one of the three questionnaires you use as, this age determine whether the child use the 48 Months, 54 Months or the 60 Months. 

After selecting the correct questionnaire to be administered; the child and parent are engaged in a series of activities and questions. During the administration of the questionnaire, the interviewee records one of the following responses:

“Yes”if the child is able to do the task or answer the question.

“Sometimes”the child rarely carries out the activity

“Not yet”– if the child cannot yet do the skill.

For the next step, the ratings are recorded and then converted to scores; the total is then used to determine where on the developmental spectrum the child is for each domain.

Updates on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire Jamaica

ECC’s field officers were engaged in a three day training on the ASQ-J, from July 19–21, 2022.  The training included a detailed explanation of the procedure for calculating the chronological ages when administering the questionnaires. The training focused on the method of assigning scores, to see where on the spectrum the child falls on each level of the developmental domain. The scores are used to determine the recommendations and intervention strategies for the child. The officers were also engaged in on-the-spot interview sessions with volunteer parents and children.   

Reference:  Davis, R. (2008). The Jamaica Early Childhood Curriculum conceptual                              

framework. Retrieved from https://ecc.gov.jm/curricula/

The Administration of the Jamaica School Readiness Assessment (JSRA)

There are many signs of developmental delays that can exist in children and often vary depending on specific characteristics (Gill & Pietrangelo, 2020). Therefore, it is important to screen children for early identification of developmental delays. In light of this, The Early Childhood Commission in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Youth and Culture Health Art Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund partnered to make the 2022 administration of the Jamaica School Readiness Assessment (JSRA), more popularly known as the Age 4 Assessment a success.

What is the JSRA?

The JSRA was designed to screen 4-year-old children for child developmental delays and readiness for primary school, in order determine whether additional developmental evaluation is necessary and to assist in curriculum-planning to support children’s readiness for primary school.  The components of the JSRA includes the child’s Demographic Profile, Child Health & Development, Child Behaviour Rating Scale, Approaches to Learning/Social-Emotional, Early Literacy Skills and Early Numeracy Skills.

Early Childhood Practitioner (ECPs) are responsible for completing the JSRA booklets for all four-year-old children during the administration in term 3 of each academic year.

When was JSRA Administered?

The JSRA booklets were distributed to all ECIs across the Jamaica who had age 4 children. The assessment was conducted by the class teacher throughout the period of June 20 – July 1, 2022, with the aid of the ECC field officers.  The distribution and completion process were carefully supervised by the field officers.

What’s Next?

The ECC has sought the expertise of DPK, an Information Technology (IT) based company that provides data conversion and data processing services to aid with developing a workable solution for easy conversion of the data to expedite the reporting process. The data from the JSRA booklets is currently being processed by data entry clerks, who have been tasked with transcribing the data from the JSRA booklets on to stock forms.

The results from the administration of the 2022 JSRA will become available to ECIs by September 2022. The data from the report will be used by teachers to determine one of two actions:

  1. Refer to the ECC field officer for administration of the Ages and Stages Questionnaire Jamaica (ASQ-J).    
  2. To be monitored in Class 3

Gill & Pietrangelo. (2020). What you need to know about developmental delays. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/developmental-delay

Public/Private Partnership a Model for Success During the Pandemic

Picture: pexel.com

The ECD sector has been hard hit financially. School closures due to COVID-19 meant that many privately-owned institutions that depended on school fees for their operation and maintenance had to stop operations and lay off staff. This would have had a negative impact on children’s learning and development as these institutions discontinued teaching and learning. Publicly-owned institutions such as infant schools and departments were not affected in this way as they are government-funded and do not charge school fees. The early childhood sector in Jamaica is made up of three categories of institutions: privately owned ECIs, publicly owned ECIs and ECIs that are public/private partnerships[1]. Today’s blog explores how financial support for ECIs under the public/private partnership reduced the negative impact of COVID-19 for some institutions.

Public/private ECIs are privately owned institutions that receive government funding to support their operations and maintenance. Funding is received in the form of subsidies and grants and can be used to pay teachers, purchase materials and provide meals for children. Public/private ECIs were able to weather the financial impact of the pandemic due to financial support received through the ECC.

Here are some of the ways the ECC has supported ECIs financially during the pandemic:

Salary Subsidy

Salary Subsidies are provided to ECIs to subsidize the payment of salaries for Early childhood practitioners (ECPs) at privately owned ECIs. During the pandemic, ECIs that received salary subsidies were able to remain open and retain ECPs to support children’s online learning. The ECC was able to continue paying Salary Subsidy to the approximately 3000 ECPs that were eligible to receive this support.  

Material Grant

The Material Grant is an amount paid to ECIs that provides teachers with the opportunity to purchase materials and supplies for teaching and learning. During the academic year, 1,247 ECIs received Material Grants which benefitted 62,586 students.

Brain Builder Programme

The Brain Builder Programme provides financial support to several privately-owned ECIs that serve children 0 to 3 years old. The financial support includes funding for operations, maintenance, meals and the paying of staff. During the pandemic, Brain Builder Centres, ECIs established under the Brian Builder Programme, were able to continue operations without the risk of closures due to the government financial support received. For the period April to July 2021, 60 Brain Builder Centres received financial grants totaling $6.9 million JMD which benefitted 667 children.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had serious financial impact on the ECD Sector as many ECIs are still struggling to stay afloat while many have since been closed, leaving staff out of work and many children missing out on schooling. However, a silver lining in these challenging times for some ECIs is the financial support they received through the private/public partnership that not only benefitted them before COVID-19 but became a lifeline during the pandemic. Consequently, they continued operations and provided learning and development for our children at one of the most challenging times in our history. No doubt both the ECC and the ECIs see value in this type of partnership.

[1] Early Childhood Commission National Strategic Plan 2018-2023, unpublished.

Looking to the Future: Support for the ECD Sector

Photo credit: pexel.com

In last week’s article we explored some considerations for looking to the future as we plan for the reopening of schools. Today’s article continues this exploration.

Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for our children, teachers and parents, the education sector, including the early childhood sector, has had to weather the storm through learning and adapting to this new way of life. We hope to use the lessons learnt from the pandemic to plan for our children’s future and to build back a better ECD sector. As we look forward to the future, here are two considerations for building back better ECD for our children.

Support Children’s Mental Health

COVID-19 has had multiple impacts on children and families which have resulted in the deterioration of psychological health and mental wellbeing. There is enough research to document the psychological impact of COVID-19 on young children which should be a major consideration as policy-makers plan for the reopening of ECIs. Research has shown that children 3 to 6 years old were more likely to manifest symptoms such as clinginess and fear of family members being infected with COVID-19 than older children 6-18 years old[1]. Additionally, parents reported that COVID-19 affected their children in ways that made them feel uncertain, fearful and isolated. They also reported that their children experienced disturbed sleep, nightmares, poor appetite, inattention and separation anxiety[2]. Looking to the future, the ECD sector will need to consider the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health, train and support teachers to tackle these issues that will be manifested in the classrooms in the upcoming school year and mobilize resources that will be needed to support this effort.

Improve Teacher Psychological Support

Another impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increase in mental health challenges for teachers. Research in the USA found that 84% of teachers noted that teaching was more stressful in the pandemic, and teachers were more likely to report feeling stressed and burned out[3] when compared to other government workers. Additionally, 80% of teachers reported feeling anxious, worried, exhausted, or depressed since the start of the COVID-19 crisis[4]. The data is clear, like our children, the psychological impact of COVID-19 has been severe for teachers. As the ECD sector looks to the future and prepares for reopening, psychological support for teachers will be critical to successfully creating nurturing and caring environments for children to thrive post-COVID-19.

COVID-19 continues to be challenging in many aspects but we continue  to adapt and learn from what has become a new way of life. It is by utilizing the knowledge, tools and resources to our advantage that we will be able to build back a better ECD sector for our children in a post-pandemic world.

[1] Singh, S., Roy, D., Sinha, K., Parveen, S., Sharma, G., & Joshi, G. (2020, August). Impact of COVID-19 and lockdown on mental health of children and adolescents: A narrative review with recommendations. Psychiatry Research, 293.

[2] Singh, S., Roy, D., Sinha, K., Parveen, S., Sharma, G., & Joshi, G. (2020, August). Impact of COVID-19 and lockdown on mental health of children and adolescents: A narrative review with recommendations. Psychiatry Research, 293.

[3] https://www.edweek.org/leadership/teachers-mental-health-has-suffered-in-the-pandemic-heres-how-districts-can-help/2021/05

[4] Dana Thomas (2020). Happy Teacher Revolution Presentation, May 28, 2020.

Build Back Better: Planning for the reopening of ECIs following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo Credit: Margo Morrison

In our most recent series of blogs, we have focused on the impact of COVID-19 on the sector and some of the lessons learnt during the pandemic from our teachers, parents, principals, and staff members from the Early Childhood Commission. As we look forward to the future with schools set to restart in September and hopes abound for face-to-face schooling, we believe that planning to build back better ECD is essential. COVID-19 has highlighted the challenges within the sector and the many gaps that need to be closed. To ensure that our children have access to world-class early childhood education and care, it is vital that planning for the reopening of ECIs following the COVID-19 pandemic consider some key points.

Improve Teacher Training

High-quality teachers are essential to positive outcomes for children’s learning and development.[1] Prior to COVID-19, there was a thrust to increase the number of highly trained teachers in the ECD sector. Post-pandemic, this has not changed; however, the pandemic has highlighted that in addition to what teachers already know about child development and teaching children at the early childhood level, they also need training and development in new teaching skills and technologies that were required to navigate the classrooms and supporting children’s education during the pandemic. Many teachers were not familiar with online learning platforms before the pandemic, and similarly, many would not have participated in teaching children of early childhood age remotely. Additionally, as the education sector prepares children for the 4th Industrial Revolution, knowledge and skills within the technological field will be important for teachers. As we plan for the future, improving teacher training in these new skills and technology is essential because by doing so, we can ensure that the teachers in the sector are prepared to take on the potential of further school closures due to COVID-19 and to support our children for life and learning in the digital future.

Tackling Learning Loss

School closures during the pandemic were to reduce the spread of the virus but this also meant that children’s learning was disrupted. Even with efforts to continue with remote learning, many children missed out. According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics[2], COVID-19 has resulted in the closure of schools in 188 countries affecting 1.5 billion students globally. Additionally, UNICEF[3] reported that children in the pre/basic school age group had the lowest levels of engagement in distant/remote learning with only 75 per cent; while data from PIOJ noted that only 32% of students had daily access to the internet according to the National Education Council Report titled Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Jamaican Education System. Additionally, reports coming out of the United States, noted that virtual schooling may have contributed to learning loss with more than half of public school teachers reporting significant loss both academically and socially. Considering all these factors, schools will have to be prepared to tackle the issue of learning loss and develop strategies to facilitate children’s learning whether they are learning face-to-face or remotely.

As we take stock of the school year that has just ended and we plan for the future, learning from our experiences and utilising available data will help us to train teachers and support children’s learning will improve the ECD sector and outcomes for children during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

[1] Marcelo, C. (2009). Professional Development of teachers: past and future. Sisifo. Educational Sciences Journal, 08, pp. 5-20. Retrieved from (August, 2019) at http://sisifo.fpce.ul.pt

[2] https://en.unesco.org/news/take-survey-covid-19-and-early-childhood-education-workforce

[3] https://www.unicef.org/jamaica/press-releases/unicef-study-reveals-impact-covid-19-challenges-children-and-families-jamaica

Lessons Learnt from Schools During the Pandemic – Part 2

picture source: data.europa.edu

Today’s article is the second article to explore the lessons learnt from schools during the pandemic. It highlights information gained from interviews conducted with ECI and ECC staff for the Impact of COVID-19 on the ECD Sector series. Below are a few of the lessons learnt.

COVID-19 Interrupted Social Interactions

One of the main impacts of the pandemic is its effect on social interaction. Due to the highly contagious nature of the virus, social distancing rules were in place to prevent the spread of the virus; as a result, schools were closed and both teachers and children missed out on their daily social interactions. Ms. Davidson, a parent, noted that “my child was concerned about schools closing, he asked why he was not going to school. He also regularly moped and cried that he missed his ‘Aunties’ and classmates/friends.” Similarly, Mrs. James, principal of Faith Mission Early Childhood Development Centre in Sydenham, St. Catherine, noted that “the children have asked about their friends and told us that they were missing each other.” For teachers, the interruption in social interactions was also evident, Mrs. Samuels, teacher at Faith Mission Early Childhood Development Centre in Sydenham, St. Catherine, noted, “as a team, we lost the togetherness we enjoyed before the pandemic that we had as coworkers and with the children which has not been fully restored.”

Opportunities for Adaptability

No doubt the closure of schools had major disruptions to the lives of children and parents which created challenges for them to continue their children’s education. However, some of these challenges were solved by technological solutions as many schools moved into the digital space. Zoom and Google Classroom became two of the most used media for continuing children’s education during the pandemic. Through this, many teachers were able to gain new skills in distance teaching and how to support children’s remote learning. Mrs. Samuels, teacher at Faith Mission Early Childhood Development Centre in Sydenham, St. Catherine, noted that “the Principal of the school hosted a sensitization and training session for us to know about and learn how to use Google Meet and other virtual classroom platforms so that we would be equipped to continue teaching and learning remotely to support our children’s learning needs… with time and further guidance, I was able to use various techniques to improve the delivery of my lessons.” From the ECC’s perspective, the pandemic brought the opportunity to implement well-needed teacher support technological solutions. Ms. Morgan, Manager for Training and Development Unit at the Early Childhood Commission, noted, “the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed the Unit to achieve certain goals sooner than expected. These goals include full implementation of online training, online registration and online evaluation of training sessions. Online registration and online evaluation were first introduced in 2019 for only the Legal Requirement Trainings. However, this was not implemented fully until the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As we reflect on the past year and plan for the future, taking stock of the lessons learnt is surely a good place to start and will play a vital role as we look to the new school year in September. Please share with us some lessons you have learnt from the pandemic.

Lesson Learnt from Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Now that schools are getting ready for summer break, many principals, teachers and parents are looking forward to the summer adventures. We are all aware of the challenges the education system has faced due to the pandemic and the effect that these challenges have had on practitioners, principals, parents and children. Today’s article focuses on the lessons we have learnt from our interaction with the ECIs, and parents.

Challenges with Face-to-face Reopening of Schools

Following the initial outbreak in March 2020, schools were shuttered by the government; however, attempts to reopen schools face-to-face was postponed due to frequent community outbreaks and clusters in school populations. This resulted in the government approving the reopening of face-to-face schooling only for students sitting exit exams and daycare centres. The financial impact of the pandemic was great for the early childhood sector as the majority of ECIs are privately-owned institutions. In her interview, Mrs. James, the principal of Faith Mission Early Childhood Development Centre in Sydenham, St. Catherine, noted that “financially, where we are unable to pay staff members their full salary. The school’s population has decreased to about 40%. We have had staff members who have resigned to seek employment elsewhere, as sufficient funds to pay salaries were not available due to none collection of fees.”

Communication is Key

Many schools island-wide, including early childhood institutions, benefited from a coordinated message from the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and the Early Childhood Commission. The clear messaging and steady flow of credible information helped early childhood institutions to make decisions that ensured the safety of their children and practitioners. As noted by Mrs. James, principal at Faith Mission Early Childhood Development Centre in Sydenham, St. Catherine, “following the Prime Minister’s announcement in March 2020 for the closure of schools, we gathered all the children to explain to them what will be happening.”

Teacher Support is Crucial

The closure of schools led to remote and online learning. Many schools and practitioners were not familiar with online learning platforms such as Google Classroom and Zoom. However, many practitioners were supported to continue remote learning during the pandemic. In her interview, Ms. Lorna Samuels noted, “during the period when the school closed, the Principal of the school hosted a sensitization and training session for us to know about and learn how to use Google Meet and other virtual classroom platforms so that we would be equipped to continue teaching and learning remotely to support our children’s learning needs.  This would have been my first time using the online platform to teach; it was a bit challenging.  However, with time and further guidance, I was able to use various techniques to improve the delivery of my lessons.”

Additionally, some teachers were able to access financial support through the government CARE programme that provided financial relief during the pandemic and through financial support from the Early Childhood Commission. Mrs. Ellis-Dixon, Acting Director of Sector Support Services at the Commission, noted in her interview that “with our ECIs closed, they are operating at a loss financially, therefore, we are placing as [many] practitioners as possible on the salary subsidy payroll so they can receive some financial assistance.”

No doubt the impact of COVID-19 on the ECD sector was great, but the lessons learnt from the pandemic are greater. It is now the responsibility of the sector to continue to transform these lessons into actions that will improve outcomes for our children and build capacity for our teachers.

COVID-19 Impact of Children’s Young Children’s Learning

More than one year into the pandemic and the world is fully aware of the impact of COVID-19 on children. Many are particularly concerned about the short and long term effects of the pandemic on children’s education and learning.

Jamaica’s schools have been closed since March 2020 with many schools readjusting to the situation with the delivery of distant learning. Teachers have facilitated learning by engaging students online, telephone and through messaging apps like WhatsApp. On the other hand, parents’ roles have changed from caregivers to educators with many left feeling stressed and inadequate as they struggle to keep up with working from home and supporting their children’s learning.

For older age groups, distance and online learning might have been the practical solution but for younger children, online learning was a bit more challenging. A study[1] in China revealed that parents believed that online learning for children was less effective than traditional face-to-face learning. This is because online learning lacked learning environments and social interactions that young children need which have resulted in poor outcomes for their learning. Additionally, parents were worried about the potential effects of online education for children as they highlighted worries about children’s vision problems as a result of having to stare at screens more than usual, and children’s lack of physical activity.

A recent report by the National Education Council titled Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Jamaican Education System revealed that the most used modality for online learning for early childhood was WhatsApp. The report also found that while majority of parents believed that online learning was somewhat effective, 50% of parents felt that their children learned only some of the content they were supposed to learn during online learning.

Knowing that the school year is still in session with a few more weeks until schools are closed for the summer. Here are some tips to support young children’s learning at home.

Play is Important

Children learn best through play. Play is very important to children developments and a great way for them to learn new skills. Children are more likely to engage in learning activities that offer them opportunities to play and have fun.

Screen Time

According to the American Academy of Paediatrics[2], there should be no screen time for children younger than 18-24 months and children between 2 and 5 years old should get one hour or less of screen time per day. With the outbreak of the pandemic, many families have had to rely on tablets and mobile phones for their children’s learning. Parents and practitioners should ensure that activities and lessons are planned to reduce children’s screen time by ensuring shorter periods for activities that would require screen time and longer times for activities that engage younger children and their caregivers in play activities. Parents can encourage children to interact with various objects and learning materials during and outside of class time and engage in bonding activities such as reading and storytelling.

Physical Activity

Whilst we recognize the challenges that parents are facing while supporting their children’s homeschooling, parents can encourage their children to engage in physical activities away from screens by playing games that require children to use and strengthen their motor skills. Some activities include jumping, skipping, running, climbing etc. If the child’s school does not have a physical education session in the online learning activities, parents can set aside their own time slots for physical education with their child.

Every Opportunity is a Learning Opportunity

Children’s environments produce some of the best learning opportunities. In the home, parents can continue children’s learning by turning everyday home activities into learning activities. Parents can teach children about shapes and sizes with the grocery shopping. Children can learn about textures through their interaction with different varieties of food and fabric, and they can also learn about nature in their own backyard.

The COVID-19 Corner on the ECC’s website has activity plans and tips to help parents support their children’s learning.

[1] 10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105440

[2] https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/cover-kids-screens#:~:text=AAP%20calls%20for%20no%20screen,of%20screen%20time%20per%20day.