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How A Play-Based Curriculum Transforms Students Into Hygiene Advocacy Superheroes | #BeatGermsWithBheem

June 20, 2019

Santhoshini, one of the students who participated in our 2018 pilot program.

As Santhoshini walked into her fourth-grade classroom, she noticed that smartphones, computers, and a projector had replaced the course materials she would normally find at her table. Once all the students settled down, the teacher said the magic words — “Today, we are going to play some games and watch videos!” — and introduced the excited students to a new program called Hygiene with Chhota Bheem*.

“Before we start playing— how many of you use a toilet at home?” Santhoshini looked around and saw many of her classmates raise their hands. She had once used a toilet in her aunt’s home, but her family had always just gone to the neighboring fields to defecate. She was suddenly embarrassed that she was one of the few students who did not have a toilet at home. What makes using a toilet such a big deal, anyway?

Over the next four weeks, Santhoshini played games that taught her how germs make us sick when we don’t wash our hands with soap, chanted spells that helped her learn the steps of proper handwashing and toilet use, and viewed videos and storybooks where Chhota Bheem (her favorite cartoon character) and his friends defeated the evil Germ Wizard. She learned healthy hygiene habits while strengthening her reading skills, and playing and learning in groups gave her the confidence to adapt all this knowledge to her everyday life.*

When developing the Hygiene with Chhota Bheem learning program, our team faced a unique challenge: proper handwashing and toilet use techniques are extremely important, but for many young people, these subjects can be uncomfortable, gross, or embarrassing to talk about. What to do?

Over time, and with rigorous testing, we found that a focus on a play-based, immersive pedagogical model that encourages learning through games, experiential activities, and storytelling, was extremely effective at breaking down stigma and transforming hygiene attitudes and behaviors.

Students gather around as a teacher reads from a Hygiene with Chhota Bheem storybook.

Participatory activities like the ones featured in Hygiene with Chhota Bheem provide an opportunity for young learners like Santhoshini to use their knowledge, skills, and life experiences to analyze sanitation issues both individually and as a group in a fun and approachable way. Additionally, these participatory activities enable learners to identify and circumvent their own barriers to learning about health and hygiene practices, better enabling them to become hygiene advocates for themselves and their communities.

Play-Based Learning

Since the Engagement Lab’s earliest projects, we’ve believed strongly that play is a powerful way to create change. Play shifts behaviors and ways of thinking, focuses attention, and enables creativity and collaboration.

Play is one of our primary means to learn from experience. From a young age, we play with the world around us and learn through the intrinsic motivation of having fun.

Hygiene with Chhota Bheem is a purposeful play experience that facilitates deeper learning that a child will remember and internalize. Through the engaging and culturally meaningful games and activities in this learning experience, children take an active role in learning about health and hygiene.

And by collaborating with their peers to achieve hygiene goals and advocating about better hygiene practices to their communities, children who participate in the program become more community-minded, and therefore more critical and active citizens.

Students watch Hygiene with Chhota Bheem story videos on tablets.

Transmedia Storytelling

Stories engage our thoughts, emotions, and imagination all at once. As listeners we participate in stories with both mind and body as we immerse ourselves in the narrative world and react to it. Storytelling is a human art form that teaches about the human experience.

Transmedia storytelling is the process by which a single story is told through multiple platforms. This technique makes the story accessible to different kinds of people and ensures that every kind of listener and learner engages with the story from their unique perspectives.

The story told across the Hygiene with Chhota Bheem learning materials was designed from the start as a transmedia experience.

Children engage with and immerse themselves in the story (and the values of health and hygiene it fosters) through interactive videos, a storybook, a series of games and activities, including an exciting digital game that can be played on a smartphone or tablet.

Additionally, making these resources available in multiple languages is another way in which the experience makes itself relevant for children from varied cultures.

Our Learning Framework

The stories, games, and activities in this curriculum are centered around play. Participants learn while enjoying themselves, and apply and spread their understanding of the topics by advocating to the larger community.

Through the learning toolkit, the modules are designed to move learners across three stages: from** Discover, to **Act, to Advocate.

Discover:

The games and activities in this curriculum are rooted in constructivist learning theory, where inquiry motivates learners to use their past experiences and current knowledge to discover and construct their understanding of new concepts.

By providing opportunities for learners to discover and understand complex concepts (like when we should wash our hands with soap, or why using a toilet is better than defecating in the open) on their own through structured play and dialogue with peers, it becomes more likely that children will be able to apply this knowledge in their lives.

Act:

Active learning allows children to recall, understand, and apply new knowledge.

With a focus on ‘doing’ and not passively listening, the activities in this curriculum (like conducting experiments, creating advocacy songs and spells, finding solutions to problems) encourage learners to demonstrate their understanding of the problem and proactively find solutions to help solve .

Advocate:

Hygiene with Chhota Bheem helps children develop the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to take greater responsibility for their health and that of their community.

By showing them how Bheem and his friends advocate to their community, and helping them to emulate that advocacy, participants gain the skills to demonstrate and defend their learnings and ideas by problem-solving with their family and friends.

Once Santhoshini understood the importance of washing hands with soap and using a toilet, she began convincing her parents that they needed to build a toilet at home. She even used her knowledge to convince her grandmother to stop defecating in the open, something she had done for most of her life!

She used all the convincing arguments she had learned and created during the advocacy game to persist, and soon, her parents started to save money to build their very own toilet. Before it was completed, Santhoshini used to miss school due to stomach aches and other health issues.

But since Santhoshini’s toilet was built in 2018, she hasn’t missed a single day of school. Her attendance record is perfect.

Are you ready to join the Bheem Team? Help us spread the word about the project and the amazing impact it’s making all week long by sharing our content with your colleagues or on social media! We’ve compiled all our resources into one easy-to-share link.

Know about any about other health and hygiene projects that are also making a positive impact? We’d love to hear about them!

Want to bring Hygiene with Chhota Bheem to your organization or community? Let’s talk! Shoot us an email and we’ll be happy to have a conversation about the best way for your team to get involved!

To learn more about Hygiene with Chhota Bheem, you can check out the project’s new website or download the app for iOS and Android. To keep up with the latest from the Engagement Lab, subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

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