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SAISI Sensory Spaces Playgrounds

Sensory Spaces playground,(previously known as Back to Urth) aims to provide enriched sensory experiences that will address developmental abilities of children. Abilities that can be addressed through the use of a Back to Urth/Sensory Spaces playground, can have a direct positive impact on a child’s school readiness and scholastic performance, as has been confirmed by research done on a Back to Urth playground at the University of the Free State..

A reality in South Africa is that about two-thirds of the South African population will not be able to afford sensory integration services. These services can make a difference to foundational functional academic skills, such as reading and writing. SAISI is involved in and supports various actions and endeavours to address these inequalities.

SAISI supported the building of the Back to Urth playgrounds which originated at the Occupational Therapy Department at the University of the Free State. The playgrounds were designed to provide specific tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive sensory experiences. Currently SAISI is building Sensory Spaces playgrounds based on the concept of the Back to Urth playgrounds, under the leadership and guidance of the founder of this concept, Dr Annamarie van Jaarsveld. Experiences on these playgrounds support sensory integration and thus improve function in children from marginalised communities by providing access to playground equipment which offers sensory rich experiences to support development (Van Jaarsveld A, 2015).

Playgrounds are constructed, as far as possible, using a low-cost, eco-friendly building method which makes them a sustainable solution for communities lacking in resources and infrastructure.

Emthonjeni Sensory Spaces Playground

A brand-new innovative SAISI Sensory Spaces playground; scientifically developed by occupational therapists, so that children from low-resourced communities can reach their full potential!

SAISI takes great pride in building the future of our children, both literally and figuratively. In February and March 2023, the first Sensory Spaces SAISI playground was built in partnership with Emthonjeni NPO and Mosaiëk Congregation at Golang Education Outreach Centre in Zandspruit, Midrand. Emthonjeni works with children in need, providing them with education, healthcare, and self-development activities. Golang Education accommodates 60 children and is staffed by four qualified teachers in a container classroom format. This building project was led by Dr Annamarie van Jaarsveld, co-headed by Marié Greyling, SAISI’s chair at the time, and Ninette Visser, our current chair. They set an exemplary leadership example.

It truly took the collective effort of both the local community and the SAISI community to bring this playground to life. Volunteers from this community worked tirelessly and dug in deep. We extend our sincere gratitude and salute the dedicated individuals who made this project possible. Special recognition goes to our SAISI board members and SAISI members for their valuable contributions.

One of SAISI’s newly-elected board members, Shakira Mohammed, has a passion for social innovation, social impact, and addressing issues related to food justice and food security.  Inspired by these concerns, she introduced the concept of a sensory food garden as part of SAISI’s future Sensory Spaces playground projects.

Following the completion of a Back to Urth/Sensory Spaces playground, educators receive training on the optimal use of the playground equipment and how to apply the sensory-motor intervention programme which was compiled by Dr Annamarie van Jaarsveld. SAISI consequently conducted a training workshop at the Emthonjeni Sensory Spaces playground, equipping educators with the knowledge to provide optimal sensory stimulation and facilitate the children’s development using the Sensory Spaces playground. The videography and photography footage captured by William Warren during the construction of the Emthonjeni Sensory Spaces playground will in future serve as training materials for the building of SAISI Sensory Spaces playgrounds.

Among the paediatric equipment designed and developed in collaboration with the Occupational Therapy Department of the UFS, SAISI and the Central University of Technology (CUT), three outdoor swings for the playgrounds were designed, developed and manufactured by the engineers at the Product Development Technology Station (PDTS). The swings have the affordances of allowing the children to assume different body positions and to provide different kinds of vestibular input.

Story by: Dr Annamarie van Jaarsveld

Reference: Van Jaarsveld, A., Liebenberg, E., Van Rooyen, C.F & Janse van Rensburg, E., 2021

Last Updated on 26 October 2023 by HPCSA Corporate Affairs