Once in Gambia I was met by the lovely Lisong and her husband Adama at the airport. This was not my first experience of Banjul airport and was no surprise to me when I arrived in the middle of a power cut and was met with airport officials carrying torches! Aside from the powercut to negotiate, the first thing that hit me was the heat. It was getting late (about 8.30pm) but the heat was still intense and very humid – I wasn’t prepared for that and soon felt that my jeans and shirt were not the best items of clothing to arrive in!
Monday morning soon arrived and as planned Lisong came to meet me at 8.30am. The road is sandy and has a VERY uneven surface so good shoes are advisable! Random sheep and chickens wander around and there is a lovely local bar/restaurant along this road with a couple of small shops. The walk there and back was very pleasant and much more satisfying than walking along the busy roads where I live. In fact it was something to look forward to.
My placement plan was to really focus on promoting learning through play and I identified that the outdoor area really was a great place to start. Lisong had particularly liked my own setting’s outdoor area so I really wanted to try and recreate some things for her. The outdoor area is lovely and had a trampoline, 2 seesaws and some swings but little that challenged the children’s imaginative play. I had taken some resources with me such as playdough tools, paintbrushes, flashcards (suggested by Lisong) and some small wooden sticks and discs with letters and numbers on.
Working closely with Aunty Elsie (Lambs group) I was able to create several areas of play outside;
- a den out of material and a disused swing complete with and old suitcase filled with books, a floor mat and a couple of small logs to sit on
- a car/bus from old crates and a steering wheel
- sand and water play using large bowls available and resourcing with spoons, bottles, plates, shells and containers
- a large log for children to sit on in front of the painted blackboard whilst they played at being teacher
- a role play kitchen area with various plates, bowls, pots, plastic food and a traditional stove bought at the market set into rocks and stones
- large boxes provide endless imaginative fun mainly used by the boys
- colour sticks hanging from the tree and letters and number wooden discs hanging in the den
In addition to these physical resources, I subtly introduced other small changes that would demonstrate teaching numbers and letters in particular, in a less formal manner than the morning routine. The teachers would bring out small plastic balls for the children to use at playtime so I used a marker pen to put numbers on these. We played games finding balls by number and also colour, rather than just throwing them around. Similarly they had some plastic container lids, so they got numbered too! The children themselves began to place these out in order creating their own number line and also finding the ball with corresponding numbers to match to the lids. What was lovely and heart-warming to see was Aunty Fina (Little Lambs) starting to adjust her teaching approach with the younger children by using a variety of numbered items for the children to sort and match, as opposed to standing in front of the group and holding up a number flashcard.
The changes to the outdoor area were a huge success, the children loved the new additions and explored everything to the full. They pretended to be teacher at the blackboard, they looked at books and listened to the teachers read stories. They spent long periods of time pretending to cook and drive or ride on the bus to Serekunda. The water bowl and sand bowl were busy areas with some lovely pouring and measuring taking place. One child in particular spent a very long time filling every bottle (about 6) using a cup and then lining them up on the pavement. I took this to be their own experience of collecting water to take to their home. Water was mixed into the sand to make some really sloppy pies, the children thoroughly enjoyed this.
Playdough day was exciting. I bought the ingredients needed and had taken a range of food colourings with me. I spent the morning moving from class to class demonstrating to the teachers and encouraging hands on interaction from the children how to make playdough. Children touched the raw ingredients, they named it and tasted it (I like children to fully appreciate and experience each element when making something like this), they mixed and poured and watched closely as physical changes took place to the ingredients. Once the playdough was made they spent so much time exploring what they could do with it. They used the tools or just their hands and both the teachers and children had a great deal of fun. In the older classes particularly Aunty Haddy’s (Big Lambs) the playdough quickly became a fun teaching method, exactly as I had hoped. Children initially explored and did their own thing but from observing the teacher rolling small balls of playdough, they identified this as ‘Bulet’ a fish ball dish and the children began to make their own, which led to a lovely counting activity as they counted how much Bulet they each had.
At the end of my placement I met with Lisong and Abdourahman (Operations Manager) to discuss my placement and suggestions that could further develop and enhance practice in the nursery school. I found discussing things with them extremely easy as they are very open minded and eager for positive input but I too had gone with no intention of imposing a western approach as the best way forward. It is important to embrace their culture and understand the challenges faced by educators in The Gambia. Life is very different and opportunities are limited, any future volunteers need to appreciate it is not about imposing our methods on them but more about looking at ways they can take elements of our teaching methods and incorporate them into what they already do so well.’
Read more here to find out about volunteering opportunities at Mary’s Little Lambs https://travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk/projects/230/nursery-and-primary-school-support-in-The-Gambia-(ED)