The PlayMatters project (2020 – 2026) initiated the Emergency Response Mechanism (PM ERM) in May 2022 in response to the conflict affecting the northern regions of Ethiopia. The PM ERM funded 12 partners (including direct responses from existing consortium partners IRC and Plan International) to conduct multi-sectoral PM ERM activities from September 2022 to September 2023 across Afar, Amhara, and Benishangul-Gumuz regions in 201 integrated pre-primary and primary schools, reaching 177,405 children. The Education component of the PM ERM included the adaptation of the PlayMatters Learning through Play (LtP) teacher training intervention to introduce LtP teaching methods into the teaching and learning process. In the context of PlayMatters, Learning through play (LtP) is an active teaching and learning method in which children learn through guided, hands-on, meaningful, play-based interactions in safe and inclusive environments.

As one of the first LtP interventions in an emergency response context, this qualitative exploratory study investigated teachers’ instructional practices and classroom processes to identify promising LtP practices and understand the relevance and feasibility of LtP in this context. Across five implementation sites in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, we conducted 37 classroom observations and subsequent semi-structured interviews with pre-primary and primary school teachers. We found that teachers generally integrated LtP into their lesson plans and teaching practice. We also found that LtP supported teacher-student relationships, student engagement, and learning, even amidst structural barriers. This study provides a deeper understanding of promising LtP practices being implemented in conflict-affected contexts, laying the foundation for future funding, research, and interventions aimed at supporting teachers to integrate such methods into their daily practice to ensure quality education for all children.