When we think of toys, we generally picture kids having fun and playing around, so when we hear about children who don’t have access to toys we might feel sorry for them, but we won’t necessarily be aware of the detrimental impact that not having toys can have on their cognitive and physical development. There is a reason why preschools are filled with toys and that school days are structured with games and activities for toddlers – obviously children need to be entertained, but they also need to strengthen their fine motor skills by holding crayons, learn how to share with others by allowing other children to have a turn riding their bicycle, and understand how different shapes fit together by completing a puzzle. Obviously these are very simple examples, but they point to the massive role that toys and playtime have on the development of young children. Children learn about their world through play, especially in their formative years, and children who don’t have access to toys, a huge percentage in South Africa – it is estimated that over 83% of children in South Africa below the age of six do not access any form of structured early childhood learning – are at a massive disadvantage.
Enter the age of the ‘toy library’. Just as most of us growing up had access to libraries where we could borrow books to read at home, listen to a story read by an adult during story hour, or use the space as a safe place to play with our friends, so do toy libraries offer the same, but with toys and games in the place of books. And just as you get mobile book libraries, so too do some of the toy libraries move around in trucks, offering young children in the more rural areas access to toys that they might otherwise not get a chance to enjoy and learn from until much later in life. Toy libraries also have librarians who assist with the loaning out of toys, and also help to facilitate games between children, or play with children one-on-one – helping to foster positive adult-child relationships.
Initially started in America, toy libraries have spread to countries the world over, with the acknowledgment of the essential role that play has on early childhood development. Especially important in underdeveloped or developing countries like South Africa, where many parents don’t have money for food, let alone toys, toy libraries also have a role to play in wealthier regions by cutting down on waste – instead of buying a new toy and contributing to the ever-growing mounds of plastic in our landfills, toy libraries allow for toys to enjoy a much longer life span, benefitting hundreds of children, as opposed to a handful – very much in line with the environmetally-conscious vision of the Creating Schools Programme.
We are happy to say that South Africa has close to 200 libraries that form part of the Toy Library Association South Africa, currently run by Cotlands. Should you wish to find out more about how these libraries work, or want to donate time or toys, visit the Cotlands website at cotlands.org.za.
Photograph courtesy of itla.-toylibraries.org