Youth Day: Sports day highlights importance of play

To celebrate Youth Day, early learning non-profit SmartStart and local implementing partner Lima Rural Development Foundation are hosting two sports day events – one in Tshepisong, Soweto on 17 June and the other in Soshanguve, Pretoria on the 16th. Children aged between three and five will have the opportunity to take part in various sporting activities, including bean bag races, aerobics, soccer, tennis, hula hooping and more.

Local ward councillors, early childhood development principals, and motivational speakers will be giving talks and sharing information about the importance of play in early learning.

“The main goal of these events is to bring communities together for a day of fun, and to inform parents about the role of sport and physical activity in childhood development in a practical way. Formal schooling places a lot of emphasis on academic readiness, but in the context of young children, play is learning – whether it’s with toys in a classroom, or a soccer ball on a playground,” says Grace Matlhape, CEO of SmartStart.

Just under 54% of early learning centres across the country allocate less than 30 minutes of free play per day, according to a census report conducted by the Department of Basic Education. When it comes to free play outdoors, 45% allow less than 30 minutes a day. The report also highlighted the need to do more in terms of changing the mindsets of practitioners and parents, and providing suitable materials and opportunities for play and learning.

“Our message to parents, caregivers, and early learning practitioners this Youth Month is to let children play, in order for them to succeed later on in life. Since children are ‘hands-on’ learners, playful interaction with objects and people is critical to practicing independent decision-making skills and learning new social skills, for example when they are playing in groups, sharing toys, or working together in a team sport,” says Matlhape.

Evidence shows that playful learning approaches in the early years improve academic performance and unlock skills that children can apply to more complex tasks throughout their lives. Besides the essential learning aspect of play, it also provides an important psychosocial function.

“Children use play to make sense of the world and process their experiences in meaningful ways. We don’t want our children to grow up too fast, we want them to have a childhood they can look back on fondly – and play is key to this,” says Matlhape.

Operating as a social franchise, SmartStart’s early learning model is focused on overcoming structural barriers that prevent access to not only early learning, but to quality early learning.

SmartStart operates in all nine provinces and has built a network of over 90 000 parents and caregivers, whose children are enrolled and active in one of SmartStart’s programme formats.

In Gauteng’s City of Tshwane region, the SmartStart programme is implemented in Soshanguve, Bronkhorstspruit, Mamelodi, and Atteridgeville informal settlement areas, through the Lima Rural Development Foundation – one of SmartStart’s implementation partners.

By 2030, SmartStart aims to reach 1-million children between the ages of three and five annually. For more information, visit

Pretoria sports day details

Venue: Soshanguve, Community Hall, Block X

Date: 16 June 2022

Time: 11h00 – 14h00

Soweto sports day details

Venue: Tshepisong Multipurpose Centre, Block 4

Date: 17 June 2022

Time: 10h00 – 12h00

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