Supporting early childhood development

Emergencies threaten the rapid development that should occur from conception to eight years. Early childhood care and development (ECCD) can help by meeting specific developmental needs to boost children’s resilience and help them return to normal life.

When should we develop programmes supporting early childhood development?

  • When existing support for young children has been disrupted by the emergency
  • In displacement contexts where young children are not able to access play or learning activities
  • Where other programmes are not targeting very young children

How to set up an early childhood development programme

Your response should be based on an assessment of the capacities of local government, health centres, preschools and community learning centres to respond to the immediate and short-term needs of young children. Wherever possible, support them to continue running existing ECCD activities and methods, as long as these respond to the needs of children and mothers in the emergency situation.

Young children discover the world and learn through play and exploration. ECCD programmes in emergencies must ensure that young children have safe places to do this. ECCD in emergencies can happen in a range of locations: child-friendly spaces, designated ECCD centres, a temporary learning space, a therapeutic feeding centre, a health post or a shelter.

If an ECCD centre does not exist in the community affected by disaster, try to set one up during the response or recovery phase. Unlike a child friendly space, which is designed to be a temporary response, the ECCD centre can continue to function as the mainstay of ECCD services after the disaster.

Certain interventions will benefit young children of all ages, for example:

Other activities are tailored to the needs of particular age groups:

age 0-3: For very young children, supporting parents and caregivers to build strong relationships with children and use good childcare practices can be critical. This can be done through setting up safe spaces for parents and young children, and promoting mother-child stimulation. See parent and child support programmes

age 3-6: Children’s learning should be maximised through developing creative educational spaces for movement and play. Games, stories from local culture, folklore and toys should be used as much as possible. For children aged four to six years, ECCD programmes can incorporate pre-literacy and pre-numeracy activities that prepare them for primary school as well as reinforcing their gross and fine motor skills.

After the initial emergency response phase,  there should be an increasing emphasis on extending outreach, enhancing the quality of activities, and restoring and strengthening the capacity of the delivery system.

Monitoring and evaluation

Sample indicators:


  • number of children (disaggregated by age and sex) attending ECCD centres
  • number of parents attending parenting programmes


  • number of children displaying improved psychosocial well-being as evidenced by their interaction and relationships with peers and their adaptation to the new environment

Additional tools and resources

Information on this page is taken from Plan International (2013), Early childhood care and development in emergencies: a programme guide

Detailed activity guidelines are included in:

A list of additional tools and resources is here 

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