Exploring Play Hubs: An Intern’s Experience in Slovakia

Blog by Filothei Kydoniati

In May 2023, I had the wonderful opportunity to accompany the national coordinator for TOY for Inclusion in Slovakia, Škola dokorán – Wide Open School n. o., on their visits to Play Hubs. The Play Hubs are safe, non-formal, highquality, Early Childhood Education and Care spaces where relationships between young children (0 to 10 years) and families from all backgrounds are built. These Play Hubs are a key component of the TOY for Inclusion approach that promotes inclusive community-based early childhood education and care and brings services for children and their families to where they are needed.

During my internship at ICDI, I was involved in the research aspect of TOY for Inclusion. During my trip to Slovakia, I was able to witness firsthand how the Slovakian Play Hubs function and get a deeper understanding of the needs of the people they serve. I had the privilege to explore two Play Hubs: one in Trnava (with two locations), and another in Nitra.  Both are strategically situated within school buildings or other centres, making them easily accessible to the communities they serve.

The visit started in Trnava.  Here a diverse range of activities were offered to children in addition to the area where they could freely engage with educational materials and toys. It was great to see the dedicated spaces where one-on-one music classes took place, allowing children to explore their musical talents with different musical instruments. Additionally, the art classes allowed children to express their creativity using materials like clay. One notable feature of this Play Hub was the monthly painting competitions, where children’s artworks were displayed on the walls, showcasing their incredible creations.

During our time at the Play Hubs, we had the privilege of meeting Ukrainian mothers and their children, engaging in conversations to understand their needs and aspirations for improving the Play Hub facilities. While research can provide valuable data, the experience of personally connecting with the individuals benefiting from the Play Hubs and hearing their suggestions for improvement was truly eye-opening. This direct interaction allowed me to gain insights that go beyond mere numbers and statistics, making the visit even more meaningful.

Afterwards, we visited the second location in Trnava. Here we observed parents and toddlers engaging in parallel or interactive activities. It was a joy to witness parents participating in workout sessions while their little ones played on trampolines or slides. What made this Play Hub particularly inspiring was the fact that the building it occupied was initially abandoned. However, through the initiative of dedicated parents who cleaned and organised the area, they successfully secured public funding to establish the Play Hub. Their perseverance and hard work truly paid off, transforming a neglected space into a vibrant community resource.

Our final stop was to the Play Hub in Nitra where we encountered kindergarten children, specifically a class for refugee children who couldn’t be accommodated within the overloaded existing kindergartens. The activities carried out at this location closely resembled those of a traditional kindergarten, with a focus on arts, crafts, and educational enhancements. We had the pleasure of meeting a Ukrainian mother who was employed at the Play Hub. This direct experience provided me with a deeper appreciation for the Play Hub’s commitment to hiring employees from refugee or Roma backgrounds, as previously known from the data.

I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Škola dokorán, ICDI, and the remarkable individuals in the Play Hubs for their warm welcome and for graciously affording me the opportunity to witness firsthand the immense dedication and hard work invested in creating loving, safe, and supportive environments for children. Your unwavering commitment to your work is truly inspiring.