CPI featured in a Magazine for its work on Learning Through Play

CPI featured in a Magazine for its work on Learning Through Play

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Living City Magazine front page

Learning through Play is essential to culture. As children interpret traditional art forms—painting, for example, or dance, or elaborately constructed masks—they preserve culture, even while they enliven it. They play off a culture’s endless possibilities to stimulate fantasy and imagination.


How CPI is Making a Difference with Learning through Play

In the summer of 2022, Childsplay International (CPI) returned to Haiti after an earlier pre-pandemic initiative.

Haiti is achingly poor. It has endured earthquakes and hurricanes. Children have lost parents to HIV. They are often homeless.

But by supporting children’s access to mask-making—Haiti’s quintessential, traditional art form—CPI helped them have fun, and bond over learning an art form with real cultural resonance and strengthening learning through play.

CPI worked with Didier Civil, a widely exhibited master mask-maker eager to pass on his skills. We provided funds (for paint and brushes) and logistical support.

A teacher teaching children how to make masks in learning through play exercise


Didier Civil teaching children how to make masks from paper-mâché, Jacmel, Haiti August 2022.
Play as an Educational Experience
ChildsPlay International firmly believes that play is not merely a recreational activity but a valuable educational experience. By integrating play into their programs, they create dynamic and joyful learning environments for children. Through play-based learning, children develop essential cognitive, social, and emotional skills while embracing their unique abilities.

The Importance of Play in Children’s Lives

The objective was to help children recover a sense of normalcy despite the natural disasters and chronic poverty. In Haiti, mask-making is basic to the public celebration of Carnival (a sort of institutionalized form of play and of community building).

This is due in part to the importance of voodoo, where masks can represent demons and the dead. Voodoo permeates civic life, in tandem with Catholicism.

Girl painting mask Inspiring children to be creative


Girl painting mask during our workshop in Haiti, 2022

Jacmel, Haiti – “City of Artists”

Because of our association with Didier, we worked initially out of Jacmel, a small city nicknamed “City of Artists.” The colors are intense. Every inhabitant—all 40,000 it seems—pays attention to costumes and the making of masks.

Papier mâché—the mask-maker’s medium—is simple: mainly newspapers and glue (cheap, accessible materials even in a poor country like Haiti). The materials were right there. You could boil up discarded paper with home-made glue and… voila, papier mâché!

For the workshops, Didier’s helpers prepared the paint and paper, as well as Masonite boards.

Children painting masks during CPI workshop

Masonite boards provided a surface on which the children could work. Everything felt makeshift—as everything in Haiti does—but it was also organized, indicating Didier’s professionalism. Local schools provided space.

Yet while we conceived the activities as “workshops,” the children called them clubs. These all-day gatherings were (in their minds) little communities, where they worked and ate together. So, the collective meals were important—home-cooked, healthy food, consumed as if enacting the children’s mutual respect for each other’s dedication.

Helping Vulnerable Children Through Play

The mask-making involved a two-way, participatory process where each child put strips of plaster on the other’s face, then laid gauze on top of that. There was an element of trust, since one’s entire face was covered—you could only breathe by means of straws in your nose that had to be inserted correctly.

This summer, about 200 children attended, aged about 6 to 15. They paid attention. When Didier provided sometimes complicated instructions, the older children helped the younger ones (creating a sort of natural family ecosystem) until everyone could proceed on their own.

Children painting masks during CPI workshop


Older children help the younger, in the mask making workshop.

When children are given materials and understand how to use them, they will focus. They will play energetically, deliberately, and without further direction. Their natural desire to create kicks in.

The children’s masks represented fantasy creatures and imaginary faces. But they also made masks of individual faces. A child could recreate their own image (however fantastically) in the mask. They could watch themselves create themselves as they might like to be.

Children Learning Through Play

The experience was hugely affirmative. In acquiring a skill embedded in their culture, the children enhanced their sense of what they could achieve.

But there was more. Laurencia, an 11-year-old girl, thanked “all these people who supported us.” Suddenly, these children felt relevant.

They learned that one of the best ways to face trauma is to become engaged in meaningful effort with others—including play.

After the workshops, everyone received a certificate of completion. Twenty children, who displayed exceptional talent, were chosen to teach still more children.

But all the children said they felt proud (an uncommon feeling for these children).

Laurencia, one of twenty children chosen for more intensive training, said she felt “honored.” Many masks will be exhibited locally, and some may travel abroad. The initiative is still evolving.

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