Education through design

Play to Learn toys

Whoever thinks playing with toys can’t improve your future may be wrong. An innovative new programme called Play to Learn from the HAN University of Applied Sciences in The Netherlands proves this, by co-creating sustainable educational solutions through the design of toys for children in the less privileged communities of South Africa.

Play to Learn is the initiative of Dutch industrial design students working in Theewaterskloof, in the Western Cape. After researching the arrears of primary school children aged 4 to 6-years-old, the students found that toys could train the fine motor skills of children.

That inspired them to design and create educational toys that stimulate children with amplified features, increasing their learning outcomes and leading to better job opportunities. The toys do this by stimulating the children’s brains and senses through primary colours and wood design.

Play to Learn

The students found local craftsmen to cooperate in their project. Teaching them how to read technical drawings and to use new tools, the cooperation led to a skills transfer that made it possible for the development of their craft, resulting in welfare empowerment and individual uplifting. In that way, the toys enhance long-term perspectives for youngsters, as well as create social and economic chances through collaboration with local craftsmen.

‘’You mustn’t think about everything, just do it,’’said one of the students, explaining how designing from scratch means a process of trial and error. Discovering how to transmit their skills to local entrepreneurs hasn’t been easy, according to the students. ‘’Things don’t go as you expect them to go,’’ they said. But after having crossed cultural borders, success was even more satisfying.

This special South African-Dutch collaboration shows the power of design and community building. Not only effecting the local inhabitants, but also improving the skills of participating design students who are, as they state themselves explain, enjoying ‘’a life changing experience.’’ This makes Play to Learn a unique example of the educational power of design.

Experience the Play to Learn project at the Department of Design from the 8th until the 26th of July.