The boys have had loads of fun doing the activities. I think it’s a brill little pack to keep them occupied and learning at the same time.
Pre-school children from disadvantaged backgrounds have been hit particularly hard by Covid restrictions which have confined them to their homes for months.
“My children have become the forgotten generation,” says one mum from Wirral, Merseyside. She is one of many to have taken part in regular groups sessions organised by the SHINE-backed Foundation Years Trust (FYT), but these sessions stopped as soon as lockdown began, meaning her children aged one and two, have not been able to socialise with other children ever since.
“Older children went back to school, and could return to their hobbies, adults were allowed to go to the pub, the older generation were allowed back to their weekly bingo, but local children’s groups haven’t been able to return,” she says.
“This is where their learning journey begins, which will eventually go into their school years, so why have they been forgotten about?”
In an attempt to help families like this, FYT has joined forces with Let Teachers SHINE winner Boromi to provide hundreds of fun-filled ‘Keepmi’ boxes to local pre-school children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Both organisations have been forced to adapt how they work during the pandemic as Covid restrictions have put their normal activities on temporary hold.
It got my three-year-old talking about numbers without realising she was, and because she knew her teacher would ask about it, she played well with her older sister and myself without trying to cheat!
Boromi, run by Evie Keough, works in partnership with educational settings across the country to provide play libraries, sharing free home learning activity boxes for families to take home and explore together.
“When we heard that schools were going to close, we realised that Boromi wasn’t going to be able to run in its current form and we could no longer reach families in the same way,” Evie explains.
“We’re all about promoting sharing, borrowing and playing together. But due to the nature of how our play libraries work, it’s really challenging within the current climate.
“To begin with we temporarily took Boromi online and started creating ideas, sharing a #dailyplay email, which was available for free to anyone across the world who found it helpful – and still is.
“The #dailyplay emails proved really popular and surpassed any expectations that we had, but we knew that it wasn’t going to be able to reach many of the families we exist to support. Also, at Boromi we’re all about providing that offline and tangible shared experience, providing resources that get physically into the family home.
“As a result, we started to work out what we could do to keep the essence of Boromi in this new world.”
The result was Keepmi; a variant of the original concept, which allows children to keep rather than borrow the contents of the resource packs.
The small, letterbox sized ‘Keepmi boxes’ are able to be delivered direct to families, with each box containing a week’s worth of play ideas and a range of essential learning materials for families to keep.
Evie received funding from her local council to send Keepmi boxes to 300 families in the most need across the county.
“The focus was on reaching families who were known to have little or no access to the internet at home or, who had been identified as most vulnerable by the local early years team,” she says.
“From speaking with a large number of experts across the field when putting these boxes together, we knew a key element would be providing those really basic materials that may be a barrier for families to be able to complete simple activities and games together at home, for example, paper, pencils, tweezers, pegs or scissors.”
“Each box in the set, includes a range of those essential learning materials that can be used again and again in so many different ways.”
It was while Evie was piloting the Keepmi boxes that she began chatting with Anna-Louise Van Der Merwe from the FYT.
“We’d met because SHINE had put us in touch to talk about impact monitoring,” she says. “During conversations we realised we were doing a very similar thing. We had been putting together our own activity packs during lockdown but for us it is massively time-consuming. It is not something we could continue to do ourselves.”
The FYT works to build relationships between the families of young children and nursery school staff in Wirral, but Covid has made this work incredibly difficult.
“We were desperate to find a way to keep meaningfully engaging with families,” says Anna-Louise. “Social media is all good – and ours has grown massively over the last few months – but there are limits to this approach.”
It’s a really enjoyable little box of fun. The whole family enjoyed playing as a family. It is fun and simple and we had a great laugh playing all the games. We would love to receive another one.
Sending activity packs to families via partner nursery schools has proved to be an excellent way of maintaining a connection.
“It worked to get us back in touch with schools,” says Anna-Louise. “When the last activity pack we did in July went out to eight of our nurseries, we realised how appreciated it was.
“And speaking to Evie, it just made sense to partner with Boromi.
“We can reach more parents than we could reach in groups, and we can familiarise them, not only with the messages within the packs but also familiarise them with us and what we do.”
After receiving emergency funding from the Steve Morgan Foundation, FYT was able to send boxes to many of its partner nursery schools for distribution to families.
“Already the feedback has been fantastic,” Anna-Louise says.
“The schools have been absolutely delighted to receive the packs. They have been delighted to give something nice to the parents.
“It’s wonderful to be able to hand over something really nice to hold and touch and open and feel. And schools are never going to be able to provide that themselves.
“The idea is generating a lot of interest and it’s keeping schools engaged at a really difficult time.”
Anna-Louise is already looking at ways to expand the Keepmi programme and has applied to other funders to keep the partnership running.