If you’re looking for 5-year-old Edith, chances are you will find her on the swings at the colorful new playground at her school in Chapupu, Zimbabwe.

Until recently, students at her community’s early childhood development (ECD) program did not even have a classroom, let alone a playground. “We spent most of our time singing and doing drama and story-telling,” says preschool teacher Primrose Dzumbunu. “We had most of our lessons outside under a tree. If it rained, we had to seek shelter in the grade one classroom,” she says

All that changed in 2012 when parents helped build a classroom and a new outdoor play area from locally sourced materials for their littlest learners, and helped paint the swings and seesaw in bright primary colors. “The children are so happy,” says Primrose.

The upgrades are a result of Save the Children’s education program in the area, which is funded by the Oprah Winfrey Foundation in honor of hometown hero and education advocate, Tererai Trent. Save the Children is promoting and implementing teacher training, parenting skills and health education at the area’s six schools. Workshops are also offered on how to make books, toys and learning materials. 

Save the Children is also dedicated to raising a greater community awareness of the importance of early education programs, which help children transition more smoothly into primary school and prepare them for a lifetime of learning.

As a result, it’s not just Edith who is on the swings. More children are now enrolling at the preschool, attendance is up, and the activities at the early childhood development center have been given a boost.

In October 2012, Edith was just one of a hundred children enrolled at the preschool. She took her classroom activities very seriously – always reminding her classmates of their teacher’s instructions and urging them to play on the swings and not around the borehole where they might get hurt. Her uniform was always clean, her attendance perfect and if Primrose, her preschool teacher, was late getting to class, Edith wanted an explanation and a list of the things the children should be doing in her absence!

This is a giant leap from where she had started the previous year. “At first she wasn’t very attentive,” says Primrose of Edith’s first days at preschool. Back then, she couldn’t even count to 10. Now she can count to 20 and sing the English songs that she learns in class. She often sings for her family at home, including her yellow teddy bear named Polite. 

This year Edith is a confident first grader. Her new teacher, Locadia, describes her as helpful, well behaved and a fast learner. “Edith seemed very happy and prepared for grade one because she was used to the school environment and had no problems associating with other students or the teacher. I have some students who had not gone to preschool and who feared coming to school. They would cry and say that wanted to go back home to their mom or grandmother,” says Locadia.

Boniface, Edith’s father agrees. “Her entry into grade one was very smooth because she already liked going to school. It didn’t take time for her to be able write her name. Her behavior also improved and she if full of respect for us as her parents,” he says. In contrast, Edith’s brother Pride found it difficult to adjust to school. “He feared going to school and feared being asked questions,” Boniface explains.

“But Edith, and many others who went through the ECD program knew that the teachers were friendly,” says Locadia. “She is a clever girl who answers questions well and socializes well with other students. She has good hand writing, is a fast learner and asks questions when she doesn’t understand,” she adds. Not only is Edith excelling in class but she now has an eye on more responsibilities at home, “At home I wash the dishing spoon only,” she says, “My brother, Pride, herds the cattle. When I grow up I want to wash all the dishes.”

But for now, as she propels herself ever higher on the swing, though she seems to be reaching for the sky, she is exactly where a five-year old should be.