Maritzburg Fever (by Nicole John)

SINGAKWENZA, a charity focused on early childhood development, takes recycling to another level with a wide range of educational toys made purely from recyclable materials. These toys cover all concepts that children need to have covered in preparation for formal education in Grade 1.

Julie Hay, founder of Singakwenza, is a qualified and experienced Foundation Phase teacher and ran a Toptots franchise for more than 10 years. During this time, she was involved with affluent parents of children under the age of four. “These parents spent a large amount of money buying educational toys for their children to ensure they were ready for school. It worried me that so many other children in South Africa did not have access to these kinds of opportunities during this vitally important phase of their development, because of their financial situation,” she said.

According to Hay, young children learn best when they are actively involved in play. However, the cost of educational toys prevents most of the approximately 5.2 million children under the age of four in the country from accessing them. “The only way we are going to change South Africa’s frightening education statistics is by improving access to early childhood development programmes for as many children as we can,” she said.

Hay took a leap of faith in 2010, sold her business and started a non-profit organisation that provided sustainable early childhood education in economically disadvantaged areas. Her goal was twofold – to teach parents and teachers in these communities about the importance of learning through play and to fill bare crèches and playgrounds with enough equipment to ensure busy, happy, stimulated children.Rather than buy expensive toys that could break or get lost, she looked at ways of making things sustainable by providing toys that would be accessible to children both in the classroom and at home.

“I looked around to see what was freely available and accessible throughout the country, and what we have an abundance of in South Africa is rubbish. I looked at the educational toys and thought about ways of making the same toys from recyclable materials. As a result, bread bags now become skipping ropes, margarine containers become cars, polystyrene trays become puzzles and yoghurt containers become shape sorters. Packaging that would usually be thrown away now has a value,” she said.

Singakwenza has made toys that teach shapes, colour and number, toys that develop gross and fine motor skills, and toys that provide opportunities to develop creativity and problem-solving skills. “The key to the success of our programme is that we teach parents and teachers how to make and use the toys, but more importantly how these skills prepare children for formal education,” said Hay.

(Written by Nicole John and published 6 April 2016 http://bit.ly/23aOzbH)