Magic Bag Materials

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                                                      Magic Bag Materials

                                                      This section of the toolkit provides an explanation of how the magic bags were designed, compiled and distributed in the case countries, as well as recommendations and case studies to help roll-out the magic bags in other contexts.  The ‘magic bags’ are a collection of toys, books and other play resources used to promote distanced playful parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

                                                      Development, Design & Implementation

                                                      In order to select the contents of the magic bags in all three countries, the technical team first came up with a list of toys for children aged 0-3 and 3-5.  The toys were divided into development areas or purpose, and examples of what the toys looked like and how they could be used were provided.  A priority level was also assigned to each toy based on their purpose and effectiveness in use with caregivers and children.  This list of toys was also shared with the Inclusion & Equity hub of Save the Children’s Early Learning Technical Working Group, where the members reviewed the toys to ensure that inclusive play materials were prioritized.  Country teams then used the lists to determine which toys to include in their magic bags, taking into consideration which toys would be available and appropriate in their contexts.

                                                      In Bhutan, the magic bags were focused for children aged 0-3, and therefore focused on providing safe, durable, and clean play materials for young babies.  Each bag included a cloth fruit and vegetable book, a set of cloth stacking rings of various sizes and colors, a set of fabric shapes, a set of fabric animals, and a series of black-and-white pictures cards.  In Bhutan, there was limited availability of age-appropriate materials for young children and babies. The program team decided to work with two local organizations to create the materials, namely RENEW, an organization that supports the empowerment of women and children in Bhutan and focused on supporting survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.  Save the Children also worked with DRAGSTHO, an organization of people with special needs in Bhutan.  After creating fabric models, they trained individuals on how to create the magic bag toys using machine and hand sewing.  Each organization focused on delivering a particular set of materials.  The process took longer than a simple procurement, and was further complicated by supply-chain issues as the required raw materials had to be imported from abroad.  However, having the hand-made component added an additional sustainability component as the trained individuals retained the skillsets they gained throughout the project and could help later on with internal supply of this type of good. The bags were then delivered to caregivers of children aged 0-3 in COVID-19 effected districts.  This included Thimpu, the capital, and a through-point to access much of the rest of the country, as well as temporary housing colonies in border-districts in the south who previously had moved regularly between borders, but now were re-settled in Bhutan during COVID-19.  The team also distributed magic bags to health centers implementing ECCD group sessions for children aged 0-3 in 5 districts across the country.In Nepal, the magic bags were developed for and distributed to children aged 3-5.  The bags contained both play and reading materials: 10 story books and 11 different play materials were selected for inclusion in the magic bag, as well as the magic bag guide with tips for parents.  Half of the storybooks were printed in Nepali, and the other half in Maithili, to support the development and early literacy of both languages.  The storybooks had been previously developed by the Save the Children Nepal team on a previous project, and were specifically selected to be age-appropriate and foster learning at home.  Play materials included a simple board game, a dust-free slate, alphabet, number and color cards, a sorting container with color counters, a number dice, art materials, stationaries, and a ball.  These items were chosen to support a wide-range of developmental domains of children aged 3-5.  Many of the materials were not available in the local market in Nepal, and needed to be imported from neighboring countries, which was particularly difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic.

                                                      In Bangladesh, the team compiled two separate magic bags for children aged 0-3 and 4-5.  A list of the materials included in the bags for each age range is included below in Table 1. Many of the items on the larger Magic Bag Wishlist developed by the technical team were not available locally, and so the team resorted to a variety of solutions to source the relevant materials.  First, suppliers were not accustomed to supplying these types and materials and so the Bangladesh team provided additional written support to the suppliers to help them offer the most relevant materials for children in the age ranges, as well as quality and spot checks to ensure that the sample materials were correct and the bulk materials corresponded to the samples.  Second, there were some materials previously developed by the Shishuder Jonno (SJ) program, from which the project team took the opportunity to adapt some materials and work with existing suppliers. Moreover, the team also looked for other existing education projects to adapt the content and materials. Lastly, the cloth book was a new item in the country but it was deemed very high priority to include, so the Bangladesh team invested in drafting and finalizing the cloth book through consultation with SCI international experts and by preparing a sample. The Bangladesh team implemented a rigorous quality assurance process as so many of the materials were being procured or produced for the first time.

                                                      In addition to providing the materials in the bag, each team also created a guide book to accompany their magic bag items.  The guide book explains the items in the bag and provides some examples of games that caregivers can play with their children using the items.  In each country, the team provided a brief demonstration to caregivers on the items and associated games before distributing the bags.  In Bangladesh, the team created two guides for the relevant age ranges, as they were the only team to distribute to caregivers of both age ranges.  In addition, they Bangladesh team included parenting tips and guidance focusing on children’s mental health during the COVID-19, including tips and guidance with clear explanation so that parents could engage in some specific activities with their child to promote their mental wellbeing.

                                                      Recommendations & Sustainability

                                                      Based off the experience of the country teams who have developed, distributed, and monitored the use of the magic bags during COVID-19, the following recommendations are offered to support future teams who may wish to use the magic bag approach:

                                                      1. Having an overall ‘wish list’ of magic bag items was very helpful and enabled teams to make selections based on local availability, developmental domains, and age. This also led to some interesting adaptations.
                                                        1. DO:Start with an overall list that focuses on materials for the appropriate age-range and games that support developmental domains.  You can use the list that was already generated by the Save the Children technical team.  Allow teams to choose materials from that list, innovating for context appropriateness, availability, and target group.
                                                        2. DO: include multi-sensory materials that are accessible for children at a variety of developmental stages, including children with disabilities, such as difficulty hearing, seeing, or moving
                                                        3. DO: Break down the materials by relevant age-ranges. The current Wish List of materials is available with age-tags from 0-3 and 3-5, but further sub-tag were added for the 0-3 age range as material relevance and appropriateness can vary significantly in that age range.
                                                      2. All three programs distributed beautiful books. Printing or sourcing locally available books is a great way to include books.  Including cloth books was also impactful for the youngest children; when these are not available in the market, they can be sewn by trained tailors.
                                                        1. DO: Include books in your magic bags. Books are critical for all children, including newborns! Include a variety of books, as well as cloth books for the youngest children.  If there are not many books available in your context, you can print books from free, open-source libraries, or you can hire teams to develop simple cloth theme books. This takes time and energy, but is well worth the effort.
                                                      1. Procurement processes were a critical component of the magic bag compilation and distribution.
                                                        1. DO: Conduct a thorough assessment of which of the materials on the wish list are available in the local market, in neighboring markets, or are not available.
                                                        2. DON’T: Only choose materials that are available. Many of the materials in the Magic Bag Toolkit can be produced locally. Think critically about which materials you want to include in order to help children develop in different domains. Quality is also an important consideration, as materials need to be durable to provide impact over time.
                                                        3. DON’T: assume that all materials will be available in the local market, or that suppliers will have these items ready-made and at the quality required. Account for extra procurement time for working with suppliers and consultants to receive the right materials that are high quality, durable, and relevant for children.
                                                        4. DO: Consider working with suppliers to develop handmade materials. Developing handmade materials takes considerably more time and complicates procurement, so it should only be done if there is sufficient time (more than 9 months) for the project or if it’s a non-emergency setting where the materials could be delivered later.  This could mean working with professional tailors to create cloth animals, shapes, rings, or other items, or it could mean including an income-generating component for vulnerable groups by training them in how to make the materials.  This option is more time-consuming but more sustainable, as it means that the goods could continue to be available in the local market after the project ends and provides an income-stream for a group that might be economically impacted by future lockdowns.  In many cases, and with appropriate quality checks, it also means that the items are of higher quality and more durable when produced by hand.  If producing the play materials, remember to take into consideration whether the raw materials are available in the local market before proceeding as some team members faced additional delays importing the right type of cloth, for example.
                                                      2. Magic bag distribution was especially difficult during COVID-19. Due to the restrictions, some of the orientations on the items and the relevant games were less effective.
                                                        1. DO: Prioritize distribution of the bags to caregivers and children most excluded from learning opportunities. In the context of COVID-19, this meant those where lockdowns were still in place and learning centers were closed, those who might not have access to online materials and resources, and those who might not have play materials available at home.
                                                        2. DO: Consider innovative ways to distribute the bags, if time and need allows. For example, instead of distributing an entire bag at one time, the team could distribute a batch of new items each month.  This would allow more time to demonstrate and explain games and the use of play materials to caregivers prior and during distribution.  This was not possible for the teams due to the short project timeline and the emergency situation which made each distribution very difficult, but if your team has more time and can more easily distribute items, consider taking a phased approach to distribution.
                                                        3. DO: Work with caregivers to provide guidance on how they can create their own magic bags. This will be explored further in the section on radio and video.
                                                        4. DO: Include a detailed orientation on the play materials prior and during distribution. Use multi-media approaches, if possible, including radio, video and other mechanisms, to reinforce the in-person orientation.
                                                        5. DO: Clearly label the appropriate age-range (i.e 0-3 or 3-5) on the bags to help with easy distribution to the correct caregivers and children. Try using different colors bags to help with this process and avoid delays or confusion in distribution
                                                        6. DO: Think about storage and transportation of the bags when considering distribution. The bags can be quite large and take up a lot of space- they will need to be stored in a safe place, protected from the elements, prior to distribution.
                                                        7. DON’T: Distribute bags without providing detailed guidance and orientation to caregivers on how to use the materials, the appropriate age-ranges, and how these games support their child’s development.
                                                        8. DO: Distribute items in close coordination with the local government. This helps with ownership of the program and was critical in distributing to those who needed it most during COVID-19, especially by working to distribute safely in lockdown areas. Team staff need to work in close coordination with the local government to organize distribution and both need to be present to ensure timely distribution and orientation.
                                                      3. Magic bag guide books were critical to ensuring caregivers were able to use the materials and engage in play at home.
                                                        1. DO: The more instructional, visual and practical the guidance, the more impactful it was for caregivers. Use pictures and examples of specific games when developing the magic bag guidance.  This will help caregivers with lower literacy levels or disabilities to be able to follow the illustrated examples.  Having a colorful guide book with pictures and images also helps engage children- one caregiver in Bhutan said that the guide book was his daughter’s favorite item in the bag!
                                                        2. DO: Make sure the magic bag guide book is durable and of quality, so that caregivers can refer to it again and again.

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