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Education Thru Play : Where Toys Become Teaching Tools

November 19, 2019 -- Megan Barbour of Osbourn High School recently established “Education Thru Play,” a program that distributes donated toys to teachers from Manassas City’s early intervention programs. Through the program, children participate in play-based learning with donated toys they might not otherwise have access to, developing critical social and communication skills.

Barbour, who teaches employment readiness to students with autism, intellectual disabilities and severe disabilities, receives gently used toys from local online yard sale sites and is continually searching for toy donations for the program. Her students clean, sort and repackage the toys, learning skills that will be useful to them after they graduate and enter the workforce.

With help from Renee Sanders, Manassas City Public Schools’ Child Find Coordinator, Barbour began to invite early childhood special education (ECSE) teachers to Osbourn High School to go “shopping” for toys they could utilize in their classrooms or playgroups. Toys serve a crucial role in the development of children, especially those in special education. With help from Education Thru Play, ECSE teachers are able to find toys that will help their students develop social skills and play skills, improve their adaptive behavior and advance their functional communication.

After moving to Manassas City schools, Barbour saw an opportunity to adapt the concept developed by a Fairfax County teacher to meet local needs.

“I saw how it impacted teachers and students alike,” Barbour said. “When I came to Manassas City, I wanted to bring the program here knowing maybe some of our students didn’t have the opportunity for play. I also wanted to alleviate the cost to teachers.”

Barbour coordinates times for teachers to pick up available toys and she also takes requests for specific toys teachers believe would interest their students.  

“Education Thru Play has given us the opportunity to provide a wide variety of toys to families in our program as well as families that attend our play group,” Sanders said. “It’s also exciting for teachers to go shopping for their students and classroom.”

Round Elementary’s Kaitlyn Abdale is one of those teachers. She teaches early childhood special education and facilitates a pre-referral intervention group for children between 2 and 4 and their parents.

“During group, the children are shown how to play with the toy and then they get to take them home to use in their homes to practice these critical play and social skills,” Abdale said. “We have also used some of these toys in our Early Childhood Special Education classrooms with our students (ages 3 and 4) during our inclusion time with Virginia Preschool Initiative.”

Meanwhile, Barbour said it has been fantastic to watch her students implement new skills.

“Our students at Osbourn have really taken to the program, and have developed skills as simple as pickup and put in,” Barbour said. “Others are individually sorting, cleaning and packaging toys.”

Barbour is currently accepting donations of gently used or new toys, as well as disinfectant wipes, gallon and larger sealable bags. For more information about Education Thru Play or to donate, contact Megan Barbour at

Education Thru Play ECSE teachers

Early Childhood Special Education teachers recently went “shopping” for toys for their students. Pictured, left to right, are: Rachael Franks of Weems; Kaitlyn Abdale of Round; Rachael McDonald of Dean; Maureen Lenihan of Dean; Mattie Edmonston of Dean; Renee Sanders, Child Find Coordinator; and Heather Denardo of Dean.

Education Thru Play, Abdale and Barbour

Kaitlyn Abdale picks up donated toys from Meagan Barbour, founder of Education Thru Play.