Only 29 percent of South African children have access to safe, child-appropriate play areas in their communities, this according UNICEF, but a local organisation – Play Africa is championing for this change countrywide.
Gretchen Wilson-Prangley, CEO of Play Africa – a social enterprise organisation driving inclusive public learning for the country’s most vulnerable says play is “exceedingly important” for children of all ages and an integral part of early learning and healthy social development.
“Neuroscience has confirmed that the first few years of a child’s life is crucial for early learning. And play forms part of early learning and is far more valuable than we realise,” she says.
Wilson-Prangley says play sparks imagination, enhances creativity and problem solving capacities, promotes teamwork and helps to instil empathy and compassion for others. “I believe in the importance of helping to advance children’s basic rights and this includes the right to play,” she says.
And since many South African children lack toys and other learning materials that can help stimulate a range of child-initiated, open-ended activities which bolster cognitive, physical, social and emotional development, Wilson-Prangley explains that her organisation seeks to promote one single message – there is no cost to play. Their workshops encourage parents and children to make use of everyday materials when playing.
“We demonstrate just how to transform everyday items into play materials using the imagination. Few people know that you’re able to make a robot or a rocket ship using clean milk containers, or a car out of empty loo paper rolls. What’s important is the process and the imagination and creativity it stimulates,” she says.
Further, she says play is a “good way to engage” and helps children make use of their imagination; she also describes it as “pleasurable and enjoyable”.
“Playing overall gives children an opportunity to stretch their thinking and imagination, it also invites repeated active engagement which is highly beneficial for children of all ages,” Wilson-Prangley says.