Pratham believes that "Early Years" are the foundational period in a child's life in terms of laying the base for future growth and development. In fact, over twenty years ago, when Pratham began work in Mumbai, it all started with a community based pre-school or Balwadi program that was run by local young women for young children who lived in the neighbourhood.
It is well known that exposure to early childhood education is an advantage that children carry forward well into their school years. It is also acknowledged that it is not just the children, but early childhood programs that involve families, especially mothers, can lead to better learning outcomes and life opportunities. Our pre-school program has evolved over time and developed according to the needs of children and the contexts in which they live. The family is the first and the most important contributor to a child's development. In Pratham's Early Years Program, we believe that it is essential to "teach children" but it is as important to "reach out", to engage mothers in supporting children's readiness for school as well as in developing a comprehensive understanding of what the child needs for growing up well.
Direct work with communities: Pratham has evolved various approaches for focusing on children in the pre-school age group and their families. We work directly with children and families in communities. Our "direct" program is called the balwadi – where a local woman runs the preschool centre in a space in the community or in a convenient home. Children in the age group three to five attend the balwadi. The two-three-hour time is spent in a variety of interactive activities with a special focus on readiness for school. The balwadi teachers are trained by Pratham teams and full time Pratham team members visit the balwadis often to provide support and supervision. Pratham believes that our balwadi program should not only "teach in" but also "reach out" to engage mothers and other family members in the learning journey of the children. This is done through frequent interactions with mothers.

Partnership work with government: We also work in partnership with government through collaborations with the government ICDS system (Integrated Child Development scheme that runs "anganwadi" centres) for children in the pre-school age group. Here Pratham's support extends to a variety of activities including training of anganwadi instructors, mentoring, monitoring and providing on-site support, sharing of materials and methods and initiating effective assessment and measurement practices. In addition, in some locations like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Pratham has worked together with the local anganwadi teams to mobilize young volunteers to assist with preschool activities in the anganwadi for an hour a day. Further, in some Pratham locations, all full- time staff from the Pratham side who provide training and monitoring support to the anganwadis, are enrolled in early childhood education certification courses.
Reach and Scale
In 2016-17, Pratham reached over 86,000 children working directly in communities (1104 Pratham run Balwadis) and through partnerships with Anganwadis/ICDS system (Pratham supports 1871 Anganwadi units) across India.
Special features and highlights: Distinctive features of Pratham's early childhood work include
Print rich environment for young children: Exposure to print helps cognitive development, especially language development. Discussion around print material aids in building comprehension, vocabulary and oral expression of children. Pratham believes that developing concept about print in early years is an essential part of getting children ready for later reading. A key feature in Pratham Balwadis and Pratham supported Anganwadis is the effort to create a print rich environment. This is even more important in our context as children often come from homes with little or no exposure to printed reading materials. A wide range of story cards, story books, big books, posters and display can be seen in the Pratham pre-school centres. These materials are simple and easy to use so that parents can easily engage with their children using this material. Sparking interest in books and stories at an early age lays a durable foundation for reading and learning in later years.
Assessments based on observations and activities: In Pratham, our efforts to provide effective support to our pre-school work, to improve the centre's functioning and to boost children's progress, have led us to design an observation and activity based method for "assessment". This process can be comfortably carried out during a normal session and provides valuable information for guiding improvements. During the visit, the instructor and her children, their responses and interactions are observed via: individual activities like colouring shapes, joining dots, small group activities like matching, sequencing, classifying objects, recognizing pictures, counting, recognising numbers and alphabets, book handling and in large group activities like listening to stories, participating in discussions, rhymes and songs.
Report cards for children: For each child in a Pratham Balwadi, there is a Child Report Card. The report card is structured around five domains (physical, social-emotional, cognitive, language and pre-math) and has simple indicators and visual icons that can be understood even by parents who may not be literate. Children's progress is discussed with parents several times a year so that parents understand the developmental goals underlying the activities and interactions in the Balwadi and can track progress of their child towards these goals. The discussion around the Child Report Card is an opportunity to emphasize that interconnections between the different dimensions of child development and reinforce the notion that children's growth and development can be strengthened through activities in the Balwadi and at home.
Mothers' engagement in children's development: The family is the first and the most important contributor to any child's development. In Pratham's Early Years program, we believe that it is essential to "reach out" to engage mothers in supporting children's readiness for school and in actively building awareness about the food and feeding practices, basic health and overall development of the child. This includes periodic meetings and interactive sessions with mothers. A variety of games and activities are done with mothers in these sessions as well as discussions. Materials include iillustrated "discussion" cards to anchor discussions around important early year domains, visuals and story cards that mothers can use with their children and a variety of other resources.
1 BIHAR - - 1,131 45,240 1,131 45,240
2 UTTAR PRADESH 20 512 450 12,825 470 13,337
3 RAJASTHAN 115 2,293 - - 115 2,293
4 DELHI 312 7,058 150 2,500 462 9,558
5 UTTARAKHAND 20 448 - - 20 448
6 HIMACHAL PRADESH 20 417 - - 20 417
7 MAHARASHTRA 290 5,880 140 2,940 430 8,820
8 GUJARAT 34 401 - - 34 401
9 ANDHRA PRADESH 40 730 - - 40 730
10 TELANGANA 36 929 - - 36 929
11 KARNATAKA 107 2,240 - - 107 2,240
12 TAMILNADU 41 812 - - 41 812
13 WEST BENGAL 69 759 - - 69 759
  NATIONAL 1,104 22,779 1,871 63,505 2,975 86,284
Updated June 2017
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Balwadi Assessment
ITC SuneharaKalBalwadi
Report cards
for children
Assessments based on
observations and activities
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Mothers' engagement in
children's development