There is magic in the air! Supporting migrants through play in France
Céline Matran and Sandrine Bohan-Jacquot
Children’s charity Chemins d’Enfances works in Indonesia, India and Cambodia. In September 2015 they were moved to start a project at home in France, to help children living in poverty. In this article Céline and Sandrine explain how Chemins d’Enfances adapted their experiences abroad to support children in Paris.
How we reach out
In the Paris region, around 600,000 children (one in five) are living below the poverty line. Chemins d’Enfances is concerned about children who live in emergency shelters and in hotels, often for up to five years. Most of them are migrants and do not speak French at home. In these places, children have no space to play and bear a lot of responsibilities, such as taking care of siblings. They are often demotivated, not valued at school, and are at high risk of dropping out.
Chemins d’Enfances work with the children’s mainstream schools, particularly with special classes for non-native speakers,1 and with centres for asylum seekers.2 We discuss the children’s situations, needs, difficulties and barriers to inclusion, and make sure that our programmes complement and strengthen the work being done by schools.
We also work with several partners alongside the schools and centres. For example, a key partner is SAMU social – Service d’Aide Médicale Urgente (emergency medical assistance service). They are responsible for following up the social welfare needs of the children we work with. Whenever the team notices potential issues with children (e.g. post traumatic disorder or other troubles), SAMU social is informed and they refer children to relevant medical and psycho-social services.
‘Magic Place’ activities
Chemins d’Enfances has a van called the ‘Magic Place’. It is equipped with toys, pedagogical material, and a pop-up tent in case there is not enough room in schools or asylum seeker centres. A team of two people, specialised in play-based activities and teaching French as a foreign language, drives the van to meet 200 primary-age children (6 to 12 years old) in various locations every week at regular times. The team holds a 2-hour evening session in each location each week. Most of the children are in school during the day. In addition, we have developed a full-week programme for use during school holidays.
This project offers a unique place where children and their cultural identities are valued. Sessions have two components:
- Free play. Some children have no toys at home and are not allowed to leave their room at the hotel/shelter, or to play in surrounding areas. The toys we use are carefully selected based on the ESAR classification. Different types of toys and games cover Exercise (to develop senses and motor skills), Symbolic (imagination, environment awareness), Assembling (coordination) and Rules (socialization, respect of rules, team spirit).3 Play helps children to develop their motor, intellectual and social skills, and (re)gain self-confidence. Meanwhile, there is an opportunity for the team to observe the children while they play.
“I like Magic Place because I can play with dolls and I don’t have dolls at home. I live here [emergency shelter in hotel] for two years but I don’t like this place because we can’t do anything, and above all we are not allowed to play except when Magic Place comes. I would like Magic Place to come every day!” Bora (9) from Albania.
- Sociolinguistic activities. During the activities, children ‘travel’ with a mascot and a world map. The mascot is created by the children themselves, and it travels (or rather the children pretend it travels!) to the children’s countries of origin. The mascot then sends them postcards, describing what it has discovered in those countries.
The range of topics stimulated by postcard writing is only limited by children’s imagination. This leads to activities on environment, cultural habits, gender issues, civic rights, and so on. The Magic Place team uses the opportunity to organise ‘living together’ and social skills games. During these activities, children improve their French language by enriching their vocabulary, reading, and expressing themselves orally and in writing.
“With Magic Place I learn how to play with the others and many other things. It is different from school because learning here is fun” Malick (12) from Chechnya
© Chemins d’Enfances
How children’s identities are valued
The model of the Magic Place is perfectly adapted to individualised learning. Despite some turnover of children, the team members get to know them very well. They observe children during play, and work to adapt messages and learning materials to each child’s learning needs, such as in language or social skills.
Activities with the mascot offer a great opportunity to value the children’s cultural identities. They are encouraged to share knowledge of their own culture with others, and learn about each other’s cultures.
The project has been implemented for more than a year now and we are working on a lessons learned and best practices document. We are targeting several areas of development. First we are aiming to extend to new locations, in particular large housing projects. We are planning another Magic Place unit in the North of Paris in 2017. Second, we would like to create play sessions with parents, in order to develop parent-child relationships. We are producing a pedagogical kit, with tools, games and programme descriptions, in order to share our experiences with others who want to work with children in similar circumstances.
Inclusive Education Consultant
1For more information about non-native speaker classes, called UPE2A classes: http://bit.ly/eer5-art5 (in French)