The theme of the 2024 conference is 'Early Learning and Development: Foundations for the Future through Partnerships on Play, Parents, Practice and Policy'.

According to Cotlands, the primary objective of the conference is to delve into and promote the understanding of collective opportunities and responsibilities to ensure that play-based learning takes a central role in facilitating young children's early learning and development, both at home and in programmes, through training and policy support.

This is among:
  • parents
  • primary caregivers
  • early learning programmes
  • researchers
  • academia
  • administrators, and
  • policymakers.
The conference is co-hosted by:
  • the Department of Basic Education
  • Cotlands
  • the LEGO Foundation 
  • Sesame Workshop South Africa, and
  • HOPE worldwide South Africa. 
"Play-based learning has an essential role in children's development as they grow and move through the world. By supporting their curiosity and encouraging them to explore, problem-solve, regulate their emotions and more, we start to build not only their sense of safety and trust but also empower them from a young age," says Mari Payne, senior director of education and outreach at Sesame Workshop South Africa.

The event was established in 2016. The South Africa National Conference on Play-Based Learning says that it is underpinned by the importance of the early years in laying essential foundations that influence the destiny of:
  • individuals
  • communities, and
  • nations.
Over the years, national policies have highlighted the significance of parents and primary caregivers supporting their children's early learning and development from birth. Parents can promote their children's holistic development by playing with them, as research shows that children learn best through play, says Cotlands. 

The conference seeks to draw attention to the numerous benefits of play-based learning, which include, but aren't limited to:
  • developing children's creativity and ability to be innovative, and
  • growing their problem-solving, linguistic, social and critical thinking skills. 
The event will feature various plenaries and related workshops, with sub-themes that will focus on a variety of topics. These topics include:
  • the importance of parents including learning through play in their child-rearing practices
  • the determinants of quality early learning and development opportunities in the home and early learning programmes, and
  • policy in early learning and development. 
Dr Monica Stach, CEO of Cotlands, says, "We at Cotlands are deeply committed to empowering parents and caregivers to prioritise play as a fundamental aspect of children's development. Our advocacy campaign underscores the importance of creating meaningful moments for play within the home environment, fostering stronger bonds between parents and children while nurturing essential cognitive and social skills."

"Furthermore, we recognise government institutions' invaluable role in promoting equitable access to educational toys and learning resources, such as the children's section of public libraries. That is why we are dedicated to collaborating with government departments at the conference to see how we ensure that families in our communities have convenient access to a diverse range of educational toys and play opportunities," adds Stach. 

"Through collective action and focus, we can create a future where every child has the opportunity to thrive through play," Stach says.

"The Department of Basic Education is thrilled to once again participate in the PLAY Conference. Our vision for ECD is that we want to provide universal access to quality ECD by 2030, by prioritising the most vulnerable children," says the minister of basic education Angie Motshekga. 

"Together with our dedicated partners, there is no doubt that our continued collaboration will yield strengthened results that will advance the required early learning outcomes for young children, resulting in achieving our national goals and global commitments," Motshekga concludes.  

According to Cotlands, the conference promises to offer a wealth of knowledge, insight and inspiration to identify innovative approaches and strategies that support effective play-based learning and development opportunities for all young children, whether at home or in a formal programme.

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*Image courtesy of contributor