Kaya ChildCare: A Localized Approach to Early Childhood Development

Rose Aba Dodd is founder of Kaya ChildCare, an early childhood development program in Accra, Ghana. Kaya ChildCare is designed to facilitate the holistic development of the Kayayoo’s children from age one through kindergarten and their transition to primary school. Rose is also a faculty member at Ashesi University in Entrepreneurship and Leadership, and the Director of the Education Collaborative. Her passions focus on improving systems for inclusion in education in Ghana and Africa through innovative models of social entrepreneurship.

Across Ghana, there are hundreds of thousands Kayayei, with an estimated 15,000 in Accra (People’s Dialogue and Ghana Federation of Urban Poor PDGFUP, 2011) though the actual number is unknown and likely much higher (Adaawen & Owusu, 2013; Baah, 2007). Approximately 41% of them have children under six years old, 86% are unmarried, and 58% were engaged in some type of farming practice previous to coming to Accra (Parliament of Ghana, 2016). Kayayei are women who work in the market areas as porters and have a nomadic lifestyle, commonly living in shacks and stalls in the markets or temporary housing. Kayayei often bring their children with them to the market and work with them strapped to their backs, as there are limited early childhood care opportunities before Kindergarten. Of the opportunities that do exist, Kayayoo’s work schedule and lifestyle do not fit well within the rigidity of existing childcare opportunities, and these programs often involve both large upfront and extra costs. 

Fifty percent of Kayayei have no formal education, and those that do have only up to basic education (Parliament of Ghana, 2016). Even though they do understand the importance of education, they are less aware of the importance of early childhood development. As such, I created Kaya ChildCare in 2017 based on the need to provide a space for Kayayoo’s children to play, eat, learn, and engage with other children under the age of six. The program is designed to be flexible, enabling the Kayayei to bring their children to the center when they go to the market for work. The flexible and low-cost model provides a service that better matches their schedules and lifestyle. 

When a child enrolls, we conduct an assessment to determine their level, and over the course of their time with us, we prioritize their socio-emotional and cognitive development using play-based learning. Within three months of attending Kaya ChildCare, a child develops their social-emotional skills, and the foundations for executive functioning and cognitive skills. We prioritize this method because the lifestyle of the Kayayoo moves her out of town often, meaning the child’s experience with us may be short. We have adapted our lessons to the children’s typical home environments, using familiar or recycled materials for engaging in play. 

The program is led by our center manager, who is an early childhood and health professional. Her leadership style is very collaborative, focusing on working with our teachers. She has stressed the need to provide additional value to our teachers through demonstrating that we understand their realities and want to be involved in their children’s lives and their professional lives. For example, oftentimes, the teachers also have young children, who enroll in the program at no cost. This saves the teachers money as well as provides a convenience by not having to drop off their children at school before they go to work. 

We only hire from the local community so that the teachers understand the local nuances of the Kayayoo and their lives, from the nature of working in the market to how the transportation system works. Many of our teachers are high school graduates. Our first and most important requirement when hiring is that they have the passion for children and early childhood development. After a year with us, once they have demonstrated that passion, we enroll them in the National Nursery Teacher Training Program which is provided by the government. Our hope is that even if our teachers leave post certification to work somewhere else, that they recognize that our model is unique and promotes open communication channels. We hope that they will bring their experiences and best practices with them wherever they go. At Kaya ChildCare, teachers have autonomy over their classrooms, and we acknowledge that they likely know more than we do about the local context. Our center manager acknowledges this reality as well, and ensures that teachers know this knowledge is appreciated. 

Our staff are a key asset in the socioemotional development work we engage in. The teachers look, talk, and dress in a familiar manner, and we do not require them to wear uniforms; only aprons. In this way, the transition between the children’s living environment and experiences accompanying their mothers to the market to entering the classroom is less shocking. We have embraced a more informal model of childcare which allowed us to build the trust needed to engage mothers in their children’s development. We interact with the children through home visits or seeing them in the neighborhood or the market. We support the mother with monitoring and ensuring their child’s health, as well as prompt hospital visits if needed. For the Kayayoo mother, Kaya ChildCare is their family in migration who supports caring for her child’s holistic development.

One example of the success of our socioemotional model is Amina, who started with us when she was three years old. She is the oldest of several children and when she first came to us, she did not talk at all. As with all children who come to the center, we spend the first three months focusing on building socioemotional learning — a step which we have found to be critical for this population. We ensured that Amina felt comfortable in our care, and after about a year, she started to engage in play and to speak. We found out that she stuttered, which was why she had not been speaking at home either. After we realized that, we were able to work with her and now she is very happy. She started kindergarten recently, where she is learning to read and write. 

Before Covid-19, we had about 50 mothers who brought their children to the center. They would pay a daily fee for enrollment, which covers our operations costs and staff salaries. Looking forward, our hope is to explore opportunities that do not require use of a physical space as rent is our highest cost. This is difficult however, since one of our goals is to keep the children out of the market, since they are exposed to dangers and are unable to play and learn freely there. 

Since the start of the pandemic, we have been able to investigate this idea further through the use of special curated play content boxes. These boxes are filled with learning and play materials which the mother picks up from our center at the beginning of the week with their child. A teacher helps the children look through the box, and then the family returns home and the child gets to play with the materials all week, learning as they play. When they return the following week, the teacher conducts a 10-minute learning assessment, and then provides the child with a new set of materials. The program has been a great success and we will continue to explore it post-Covid to reach more children than we currently can from one physical space. 

We provide three different types of boxes which build off one another: red, yellow, and green. The red box is very basic and introduces a child to independent play, exploration, and creativity. The child is introduced to an activity and then left to figure out how to play. Children learn about primary colors and basic shapes through activities to promote physical and sensory development.

Finally, the green box introduces additional numbers and letters, focusing on the promotion of critical thinking and cognitive development, as well as pre-reading and writing skills. 

Long-term, our hope is to provide this service to Kayayei and other low-income urban poor mothers across the country–specifically, those who work in the major market towns found in the southern half of the country. We hope to reach out to more children through the content box model as well. We will explore implementing this idea as a franchise model to expand on our concept, as well as train others on how to set up similar in other urban areas in Africa. . Additionally, we will develop our customized play curriculum to share with other practitioners targeting a similar population. 

To learn more about Rose Dodd and Kaya ChildCare and Education Collaboration, please visit https://kayachildcare.org/ or their YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=kaya+childcare.