Interview with Vivien Gyuris who was one of the presenters at the ECHA Thematic Conference

The ECHA conferences have a tradition of presenting not only the latest theoretical issues but also relevant good practices, since theories acquire their real value when tested in practice. Vivien Gyuris is one of the Hungarian professionals who presented a good practice model implemented in Hungary with great success at the 2nd ECHA thematic conference. What makes the programme presented by her particularly interesting is its focus on early childhood, a relatively rare topic at international conferences. Vivien’s enthusiastic presentation raised extensive international interest, with commenters wanting to know immediately where the programme she spoke about came from and whether and to what extent it could be replicated and scaled.

Dear Vivien, would you please say a few words about yourself and how you got involved in the NestingPlay programme?

Thank you for your kind words, Csilla.

The enthusiasm you noticed in my presentation reflects my personal pilgrimage to find a solution to the problem I was dealing with in the past 10+ years thanks to my eldest child. Kristóf is highly intelligent but has serious behaviour issues. Now, at the age of 11, he is at his third school because the education system always pushed him out. There are many children who do not follow the internationally set developmental milestones, show unusual even troubling behaviours, and often drop out of the system. These children usually end up in special classes or special schools where their intellectual potential cannot be fully utilized.

Vivien Gyuris

Atypical children may come from underprivileged families, but this is not necessarily so. What we know for certain is that deprivation and neglect leave similar imprints on the developing brain, generating unusual, disturbing, and often highly annoying behaviour. Teachers are not prepared or trained to deal with atypically developing children, and this makes the teaching process highly challenging and sometimes fully impossible. Majority parents keep complaining and everyone is full of anger, until finally the disturbing child or children get expelled from the class. Unfortunately, this is a typical segregation process that is becoming increasingly recurrent as the number of atypical children rises exponentially. Due to various environmental, social, and technological factors, today around 20-40 percent of all children belong to this category.

I have been active in inclusive education for 20+ years, including 14 years spent with the World Bank and the remaining approximately 10 years at other UN and European organisations, along with the Roma Education Fund. After several policy-level programmes, it was interesting to join NestingPlay, a social enterprise, dedicated to the social inclusion of atypical children. We believe that most children can be educated in inclusive classrooms together with their peers. This, however, requires a change of mindset, internalizing the fact that what is atypical today will be the typical tomorrow. Our societies are clearly evolving into that direction. We believe that it is better to let our children meet diversity early in their lives, learn to study and play together with peers of diverse abilities, and accept that all people have their own strengths and weaknesses, along with a personal story to share.

Could you give a brief summary of what the programme is about?

At NestingPlay, we teach pre-school teachers to early identify the atypically developing children so that developmental gaps can be reduced. We teach them to look behind the disturbing behaviour and search for causes. We provide teachers simple and practical methods to adjust the daily curriculum to the ability profile of their students and we show them practical tools to involve atypical children in school and play activities. Early childhood development is key to ensuring that these children start school with the most balanced skill and ability profiles possible. Our methodology is based on Learning through Play. Children develop their social, cognitive, motoric, and other functions through play, their stress level drops and consequently, they become more open to absorb new information, hence reach a state of mind optimum for learning.  Guided play, on the other hand, is excellent for practising bonding, cooperating, problem-solving and other social functions.

NestingPlay already trained more than 1,000 teachers in Hungary in 2019-2020 and built over 90 inclusive playgrounds. In addition to capacity building, we are also active in creating inclusive physical environments (inclusive design), promoting dialogue between parents and teachers, and raising awareness about the importance of inclusion by the majority society. This requires real magic, since most social inclusion problems are rooted in the lack of information and inherent societal prejudice against anyone who is different.

So, this has become my mission: to ensure access to quality education to all children, especially to atypical children, in a way that they can best absorb the knowledge and can study and play together with their peers. This is an enormous task, and it seems, there is an equally enormous demand for efficient and practical programmes of this type. NestingPlay pilot projects are running currently in India and Kenya, and we have received inquiries from the neighbouring countries, along with Spain, Germany, Northern Macedonia and even Mexico. We have a strategic partnership with Brandeis University in the US; three of their Master’s students in social policy will spend six months with us during the Summer and Fall. We are members of the largest European professional umbrella organisations in the field, like EASPD, EUROCHILD and COFACE.

Due to the pandemic and the increased demand, we have started developing an AI-supported app, called NESTI, to enable any teacher anywhere in the world to receive a picture on the key abilities of their students, based on which, they can customize the curriculum reflecting the ability profile of their students. NESTI not only provides a picture of the child’s key abilities but also proposes specific play activities from our PlayBank that teachers can play in inclusive peer groups and which also develop certain ability and skill areas. NESTI also offers practical advice or tips for teachers on involving the atypical child in the various group-based play activities.

The app could also be useful in talent support, as it helps receive an early image of an outstanding ability area and/or associated deficiency area. We often see that due to the lack of certain skills, which are often social and emotional ones, the apparently gifted children do not bring the achievements they seemed capable for earlier during pre-school. In their case, the early feeling of being different from their peers frequently leads to underperformance, low self-esteem, and possible troubling behaviour. We have seen that giftedness in itself is the last thing that guarantees an outstanding talent-based life path.

Returning to my career, my task is to direct the international outreach of NestingPlay, so that this methodology could reach as many children as possible. Unfortunately, the pandemic has further deepened the global learning crisis and exacerbated inequalities. The children we deal with got hit the hardest. They are the ones who cannot benefit from digital education since they would need the development of certain skill or ability areas. Therefore, they will further lag behind in the curriculum, leading to potential drop out and undergoing further emotional trauma. Redirecting these children back to the school system and reducing their academic backlogs imposes enormous extra burden on the families concerned. Unfortunately, this task outgrows our capacities, but we would be happy to cooperate with others if we were asked to do so.

I could tell you a lot more. We have many stories. Those who are interested, please, contact us. We are happy to cooperate with like-minded organisations and individuals.

Thank you for the opportunity of holding a presentation at your conference! I sincerely hope that our key message that what is the atypical today, will be the typical tomorrow, will get remembered by many.

Vivien Gyuris
Director, International Development


Talent is a special kind of natural resource that is available in every country.