Beans + Playdough + Thread = ??

Elspeth Dugdale | September 29, 2018

Beans + Playdough + Thread =  ??
Playdough, thread and beans to develop young mathematical minds

The first cohort of Jody's READ for Life** students, (who study at Connect, Gulu),  are already nearing the end of their first year of study and are now embarking on teaching practice. Each step they take during this first year is breaking new ground in terms of teaching style, attitudes, approach and outlook. This week, the student teachers began their first week of school practice.

Jody writes: 

"One of our biggest challenges and struggles has been to encourage more hands-on activities and group work, a big challenge when our student teachers don’t observe a lot of this in their placement schools. Rote learning and children copying from the chalkboard is the ‘norm’. This is hard to shake off and create new expectations.

But today when I spotted a recycled tub labelled ‘play dough’ come out I knew I was going to be pleasantly surprised! One of our student teachers taught a mathematics lesson on ‘shapes’ and had children make shapes out of play-dough, follow the outline of shapes with beans and thread shapes with string.

Amidst the challenges and difficulties there is a lot of encouragement and fruit!"


In order to understand and appreciate just how innovative and exciting Jody's news is, it is perhaps useful to know what are considered 'norms' in general teaching in most Ugandan nursery schools:

  • most schools don't really follow the recognised and approved early years' curriculum, instead opting for a short-cut route of shallow and 'lite' workbook versions to save time on planning and preparation.
  • many teachers routinely pinch, slap, and harshly 'shame' small children into behaving in class.
  • many schools set rigorous, demanding exams (yes, for 3-4 year olds!), up to three times a term, even though this is not recommended or allowed. Once again a school may buy in 'general' pre-set exams, not even relevant to the lessons taught.
  • many teachers use the same few activities repeatedly and insist that children (sitting in rows) endlessly copying material from the chalkboard.
  • many classes are comprised of 60 small children, aged 3-4, in one confined space for the whole session.
Locally made posters and learning aids 
So in many ways, the READ for Life Nursery Teacher Training approach is revolutionary. How? By encouraging, training and showing that the child-centred, creative and positive approach yields more fruitful and effective learners. But progress and change do take time - as seen over the years working with WTA. However,  it is clear that determination, hard work and extraordinary commitment are already bringing positive results.
A little background and reminder......
**READ for Life, led by Jody and Dan Unterrheiner, have a training base and office at CEC Gulu. RFL delivers teacher training and support for over 75 local schools to 'change the story of Ugandan schools. Since the beginning of 2018, they have set up a unique Nursery Teacher Training College for new trainees at weekends, using the Education Room at the Connect Centre.