Toy library aims to rekindle a love for play

The Milkwood Toy Library in Watt Street, Gordon’s Bay, opened its doors earlier this year. Lize Marais, right, owner and principal of the Milkwood Learning Academy, got the idea to open this facility for local children. She is here assisted by Brian Dearden, 7, to show off some of the stock.

Gordon’s Bay resident and teacher Lize Marais is on a mission to reintroduce children to the act of play and its countless benefits.

Ms Marais, the owner of the Milkwood Learning Academy in Gordon’s Bay, opened the private Milkwood Toy Library in May at the school’s premises in Watt Street.

It was a passion project she was inspired to take on after seeing the popularity and impact of the numerous toy libraries in Australia.

Opened on World Play Day, she says the concept of a toy library is still a somewhat new and unfamiliar concept locally. “Parents are a bit uncertain about how it works, but I always say it’s like a normal library, but instead of books, you can take out toys,” she says, adding that they abide by the same rules and regulations as a normal library.

Her main goal with the facility is to rekindle children’s love for play and to make toys, especially age-specific and educational toys, accessible and affordable. “We want children to come play and get excited to do so and in doing this, bring the love for play back.”

Toy libraries, she says, are a source of social upliftment, as they create awareness around the importance of play, teach children how to play and offer parental guidance on selection of appropriate toys, an aspect Ms Marais is keen to assist library patrons with.

“Because Lize has the background and expertise, she knows what children need and what will be appropriate toys for children, particularly those with special learning needs,” says library volunteer Ilse Dearden.

As a member of the Toy Library Association of South Africa (TLASA) and the International Toy Library Association (ITLA), Ms Marais was privy to expert guidance and knowledge on establishing a toy library, but was left with the mammoth task of finding donors to make the library a reality.

“Australia was a great inspiration because there every city, town, big or small has a toy library. In South Africa we don’t get funding for toy libraries, but they do in Australia, this is why the libraries there are so huge and glamorous.”

“The highlight for me has been the willingness of businesses to come on board and donate. It costs a lot of money to just give toys away, so when I contacted them and explained to them who we are and what we do, for them to trust me and agree to donate – that I find to be truly amazing. It makes it kind of magical for them to grasp what we want to achieve and then be keen to help us,” she says gratefully.

They are grateful for all donors but the need for toys is consistent. Current needs include indoor and especially outdoor toys and storage containers. More hands on board is another need. “This is a community-based project, so we want the community to be involved. People can sign up as volunteers and help us label toys, do check-ins and assist especially on Saturdays,” Ms Marais appeals.

The library caters for everyone. It already impressively boasts an interesting variety of toys and board games which are ideal for teens and adult game nights.

As in the case of the most borrowed books in libraries, the toy library, although still in early existence, already has a favourite among young patrons. “We have a small animal farm set-up and its almost never on the shelf, as soon as its returned, it taken out by someone else again,” says Ms Marais.

The library has 20 members, an amount they would like to see increase. Monthly membership fees are R50 for standard and R100 for silver membership. Membership includes a toy bag, monthly webinar and newsletter. Play sessions will be soon be added to the list of activities.

Library hours are Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10am to noon. But says, Ms Marais, hours are flexible so people can arrange times more suited to their schedules. “My dream is to have toy libraries all over South Africa,” she says passionately.

But for now, she invites locals to bring their children to the Milkwood Toy Library to rediscover and experience the joy and wonder of play without parents needing to fork out hundreds of rands for new toys, especially in these tough economic times.

For more information contact Lize on 076 140 3437 or at info@milkwoodtoylibrary.co.za or follow them on Facebook.

For teacher, Lize Marais the importance of play to children’s happiness and overall development should not be underestimated. She opened the Milkwood Toy Library earlier this year in an effort to get more children to play and reap the benefits thereof. PICTURE: CARMEN JACOBS
Brian Dearden, 7, plays with a toy stove, made sustainably by using a small chair, an idea created by Lize Marais to ensure more sustainable toys at the library. PICTURE: CARMEN JACOBS
In her occupation as a teacher, Lize Marais, owner and principal of Milkwood Learning Academy and founder of Milkwood Toy Library, tries to incorporate playing as much as possible. She is playing outdoor snakes and ladders with Brian Dearden, 7. PICTURE: CARMEN JACOBS
The Milkwood Toy Library has been fortunate to receive generous donations to stock up their shelves for the enjoyment of library patrons. PICTURE: CARMEN JACOBS
Brian Dearden, 7, shows off some of the toys which can be borrowed from the Milkwood Toy Library. PICTURE: CARMEN JACOBS