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Children’s museum catalysing innovations in creative learning, children’s rights, parent engagement and social cohesion.

Play Africa

location_on Johannesburg, South Africa
Disrupting the idea of a “museum,” Play Africa developed a flexible museum model to bring transformative learning experiences promoting creativity, innovation and connection to a divided society. Through replicable programmes and exhibits, Play Africa empowers children, parents and teachers with learning approaches that bring global thinking to classrooms and communities.

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Anyone can submit their innovation to HundrED Open. All information on this page is provided by the innovator and has not been checked by HundrED. Innovation page has been created by Gretchen Wilson-Prangley on May 15th, 2020
Key figures

Innovation Overview

Target Group
25 000
Updated on May 28th, 2021
about the innovation

Re-imagining cultural institutions for our youngest citizens

What we do?

Play Africa is pioneering, de-centralised children’s museum that creates inclusive spaces for high-quality play and playful learning. In six years of successful operations, we’ve become a platform to champion children’s rights, bring families together, and foster social inclusion through inspiring play exhibits and facilitated programmes.

In Johannesburg, we are based inside a former prison at the iconic Constitution Hill, just 15 metres from Nelson Mandela’s cell. We transform this apartheid-era prison from a site of humiliation, oppression and fear, into a joyful family playscape of discovery and learning. However, not every child can come to us, so we create pop-up experiences in the city itself -- in school halls, parks, community centres and inner city rooftops. 

We developed a scalable, replicable model to create Play Africa experiences in a range of urban contexts. The majority of our visitors include children who from low-income homes, underserved communities, are physically or mentally disabled, neglected, orphaned, homeless, refugees or asylum seekers, physically and/or mentally abused or traumatised. We offer special access hours twice a month to make special provision, and remove additional barriers, for children with disabilities and special needs.

With a demonstrated track record of social impact, combined with world-class back-end controls and a realizable strategy for sustainable growth, we are poised to scale in several locations across sub-Saharan Africa and are looking for the right strategic partners.

Why we do it?

Everyone deserves access to safe environments where they can play, create, discover and connect with one another, so we make 21st-century, high-quality playful learning available to everyone – from all walks of life and abilities. Everyone who visits Play Africa can try new play experiences in science, technology, engineering, arts and math, that are locally-relevant and rooted in educational pedagogies. Over the last five years, we’ve created inclusive, scalable, appropriate solutions in a society that is highly polarized, deeply unequal and characterised by exclusion. 

Five days a week, we offer free, safe and inclusive public play and educational spaces open to the 1 million children age 10 and under in greater Johannesburg, and increasingly attract visitors from neighbouring provinces. Besides making provision for play on site at Constitution Hill, we conduct right to play outreach and advocacy programmes in underserved communities that directly serve tens of thousands of children nationwide.


See this innovation in action

COVID-19 Helps Expand African Storytelling Stage
JOHANNESBURG - The ancient art of traditional African storytelling has found an unlikely ally in the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of lockdowns, the Play Africa Children’s Museum in South Africa has put its African Storytelling project online, broadening its audience to include children around the world. Thembile Tshuma is among professional storytellers who have taken traditional African storytelling online.   He was supposed to entertain youngsters on location at the Play Africa Children’s Museum in Johannesburg but the pandemic lockdown changed all that.   Now, Tshuma is performing through a camera and computer screen. His global exposure has been growing.   “Now I [have] more than like 3,000 people following me on my page.… That’s also happening to other storytellers … and to the Play Africa page,” Tshuma said.     Internet-savvy mother Pamela Seloane from Soweto explains why she initiated viewing sessions in a local bookshop.      “Some kids don’t have the opportunity to actually watch, even on their phones … They don’t have access. So, I’m like, why can’t I let other kids watch with me? It was from an excitement of discovering this and I just wanted to make it go viral,” Seloane said.It was a steep learning curve for the storytellers, the children’s museum and its partner organization ASSITEJ SA, the South African branch of the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People, to master the technology and adapt techniques and props to bring interactive African storytelling to Facebook Live. However, their efforts have transmitted African story magic far beyond South Africa, despite the COVID-19 lockdown, says Ann Simmonds of the Play Africa Children’s Museum.“That ancient art form is now putting a human and a human together again via zippy technology. We started seeing people from Kenya and elsewhere in Africa connecting. We often see in Europe, in the UK families logging on. We’ve had families from Australia,” Simmonds said.   Despite clear benefits, online African storytelling must be dealt with carefully going forward, says applied theater practitioner and analyst, Lalu Mokuku.   “It may also exclude many people that may not have access to the digital space. That’s why I said there needs to be care. At the same time, it’s also quite important for our stories to be told widely,” Mokuku said.    Play Africa Children’s Museum and ASSITEJ SA are also working on developing complementary educational content and considering ways for wider use of the stories.  Watch this story
How to Inspire Children's Creativity, Problem Solving and Joy: Play Africa Children's Museum Video
WATCH THE VIDEO (2017)Play Africa is a small children's museum based at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, South Africa. Watch how Play Africa brings together children and families from diverse backgrounds and abilities for shared, equitable creative learning through play. From STEM learning to arts programmes, Play Africa gives every child the opportunity to explore a range of curated exhibit spaces in the former prison courtyards of Constitution Hill. Parents are important partners in children's engagement, spending special time forming bonds of attachment and discovering new opportunities for growth. Through its work, Play Africa fosters social cohesion and nurtures a sense of belonging in all children and families.This video features its collaboration with Johannesburg-based businesses, creating opportunities for employee volunteers to make an impact in education.
Testimonial: Play Africa Children's Museum Sensory Play Exhibit for Children with Autism - RMB
WATCH THE VIDEO.April 2018RMB showcases Play Africa, a small, community-connected children’s museum based at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, which partnered with Gauteng Department of Education to launch a first-of-its-kind sensory play exhibit for children with autism. This video, taken at Gateway School in Ruimsig, Gauteng, features images of the custom-built sensory wall, along with interviews from MEC Panyaza Lesufi, autism specialists, parents and Play Africa team members about the project, created to foster social inclusion and acceptance of children with disabilities.
How does Play Africa promote creativity and innovation in South Africa's schools? VIDEO
WATCH THE VIDEOThis video features Play Africa's partnership with two no-fee government schools, Pohopedi Primary and Mfundo-Mtoti Primary, in Poortjie, Orange Farm, about 45 km south of Johannesburg's city centre. Play Africa equips children and families for the future through child-led programmes that promote creativity and innovation. It empowers parents and teachers with playful learning approaches that bring global thinking to classrooms and communities. As a children's museum, Play Africa pioneers equitable public spaces for high-quality early learning in South Africa. In six years of successful operations, it has become a globally-acclaimed platform to foster social inclusion and bring families together through play-based learning. Play Africa is grateful to founding partner Rand Merchant Bank for supporting its work to promote creative, critical thinking and a growth mindset among South Africa's children. This partnership in Orange Farm was made possible through support from Discovery Vitality, Care for Education and the Gauteng Department of Education.
How to Stop Bullying & Xenophobia: Play Africa Children's Museum Fosters Inclusion of Refugees Video
WATCH THE VIDEOBridges of Peace is an original Play Africa program designed to strengthen social inclusion of refugees, asylum- seekers and other migrant communities through facilitated workshops and exhibits that promote empathy and compassion. For South Africa’s democracy to thrive in future generations, children need to learn to live, play, learn and work alongside one another with tolerance and peace. This begins by nurturing a shared sense of belonging and affirming the values of the Constitution and the rule of law.Play Africa is a growing, agile children’s museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. We empower and equip all children and families for the future through play, creativity, innovation and connection. Based at the iconic Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, South Africa., Play Africa creates a society that honours children and champions their rights, celebrating imagination and encouraging experimentation, innovation and problem-solving. Its hands-on play areas encourage children to test their independence and gain confidence in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), the arts, self-expression and civic engagement. Through this exhibit and facilitated programmes, Play Africa aims to:1. FOSTER EMPATHY AND UBUNTU THROUGH DIALOGUE AND PLAYExplore concepts of inclusion, diversity, empathy and ubuntuBuild awareness about xenophobia and its consequencesInvite learners to build on these themes through Play Africa's original, child-centred learning environment designed to develop emotional awareness and to encourage interpersonal connection2. CELEBRATE THE RICH DIVERSITY OF CULTURES IN SOUTH AFRICAShare examples of the importance of ubuntu and human connection as a way to address xenophobia or misdirected hate towards othersReinforce the right of every child and every person to live in peace in our Constitutional democracyEncourage personal expression on diversity and inclusion3. INSPIRE CHILDREN TO BECOME CRITICAL THINKERSEmpower children to become self-directed learners through development of five key areas: creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration and new competencies.As in all our programmes, we capture qualitative and quantitative data to ensure we successfully deliver on our objectives.CONTEXTXenophobia and intolerance of refugees and asylum seekers remains a serious challenge in urban Johannesburg, despite South Africa’s many strides towards a more democratic, rights-based society. Refugees and asylum seekers face violence, intimidation and fear – as evidenced by the recent uptick in attacks in early 2019. The basic human rights of refugees and asylum seekers are routinely violated by host country staff within South African institutions, including schools, hospitals, police and other services. By virtue of their age, children remain the most vulnerable members of migrant communities. This is compounded by high incidences of family poverty, violence, social exclusion, neglect, and poor education on children’s rights within urban Johannesburg. Laws protect all children, but in practice many of the country’s migrant and refugee children, like host-country children, still lack basic protections, much less a chance to learn through play in safe, inclusive and equitable environments.
Play Africa Connects (COVID-19 Response) - Supporting Your Child's Emotional Well-Being
WATCH THE HIGHLIGHTS VIDEOHow do we build resilience in our children? How can we as parents support their emotional well-being?Join Play Africa, Johannesburg's children's museum, for this important conversation with Wits University Department of Social Work senior lecturer Dr Ajwang' Warria, clinical psychologist Ruth Ancer and psychologist and author Paul Bushell. This conversation on Facebook Live was moderated by Play Africa play and learning supervisor Mpho Tsele. This is a safe space designed to support you as parents!About Play Africa ConnectsPlay Africa Connects is a series of unique online dialogues for South Africans to connect with compassion through technology, created in response to the COVID-19 crisis, in partnership with Goethe-Institut Johannesburg. Additional support is provided by Rand Merchant Bank. Play Africa Connects provides a unique, non-judgmental space for all families -- including families in vulnerable communities -- to share ideas about how to cope with disruption and uncertainty.Play Africa ( is a growing, agile children’s museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. We equip all children and families for the future through play, creativity, innovation and connection.
Play Africa Connects (COVID-19 Response) - Parenting Children with Disabilities During Lockdown
WATCH THE HIGHLIGHTS VIDEOJoin Play Africa for a discussion with Basheera Surty of Diketo - Inclusive Education and Vicky Lamb of Autism South Africa. This conversation on Facebook Live was moderated by Play Africa play and learning supervisor Mpho Tsele. Audience members were invited to comment and ask questions. This is a safe space designed to support you as parents!About Play Africa ConnectsPlay Africa Connects is a series of unique online dialogues for South Africans to connect with compassion through technology, created in response to the COVID-19 crisis, in partnership with the Goethe-Institut Johannesburg. Play Africa Connects provides a unique, non-judgmental community space for all families -- including for vulnerable communities -- to share ideas about how to cope with disruption and uncertainty.Play Africa is a growing, agile children’s museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. We equip children and families for the future through play, creativity, innovation & connection.
Launch of Play Africa's Courtroom for Children's Rights in South Africa
WATCH THE VIDEOHow can we empower children to learn about the Constitution and rule of law? How can we give children insight into career possibilities as children learn about different roles in the judicial system?Play Africa, a children’s museum based at Constitution Hill, launched its new Children’s Court, an interactive exhibit that uses play to introduce children to South Africa’s judicial system. The Children’s Courtroom nurtures children’s own concepts of themselves and their rights as secured in South Africa’s Constitution. Through facilitated play and dialogue, the programme strengthens children’s rights by introducing all children to the core values of the Constitution, the rule of law, and different ways they can make their voices heard in a democratic society.  “We’ve created an exciting new learning environment that will ignite new career possibilities in the minds of children, while instilling core principles of the Constitution and the rule of law,” said Play Africa founder and CEO Gretchen Wilson-Prangley. "Despite South Africa’s strides towards a democratic, rights-based society, the reality is that children’s rights are routinely violated, and children remain the most vulnerable members of our society. Our Children’s Courtroom is a safe space where children can learn how to make their voices heard in a court of law, so South Africa’s democracy can thrive in future generations."  “We are excited to partner with Play Africa in this important work. Exposing children to the justice system and teaching them about the rights and duties of citizens is an investment in their future success and that of our country as a whole,” said Fatima Laher, head of Pro Bono at Bowmans, a leading African law firm, which provided funding for the manufacture of the exhibit.  Retired Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron was the guest speaker at the event. He delivered remarks on the Constitution and children’s rights. Constitutional Court Justice Zukisa Tshiqi cut the ribbon formally launching the child-scale exhibit, made of stainless steel and wood. Its several components – from the judge’s bench to the witness box – are designed to be fully modular, so it can be set up temporarily in other settings. “Play Africa would like this exhibit to become a powerful resource for outreach programmes and for other child advocacy organisations working in South Africa,” said Wilson-Prangley. Play Africa is a pioneering “children's museum” based at the iconic Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, South Africa, a former prison complex that is now seat of South Africa’s Constitutional Court. Situated inside the Old Fort, Play Africa operates in the courtyards just 15 metres from the cell where former President Nelson Mandela was once incarcerated. As a cultural institution, its exhibits and programmes are designed to stimulate imagination, experimentation, innovation and problem-solving in children, as well as their families and educators. “Constitution Hill is proud to be the home of Play Africa and stands behind it’s initiatives and programs,” said Dawn Robertson, CEO of Constitution Hill Development Company. “The greatest significance is that we are able to encourage community participation thus supporting the growth and development of children in the inner city for the foreseeable future.”  
Partnering with Parents How to Inspire Children's Creativity, Problem Solving and Joy


Achievements & Awards

August 2020
Virtual African Storytelling Programme Keeps Children Safe During COVID-19
July 2020
Play Africa Children's Courtroom Shortlisted For "Child Advocacy Award" at African Legal Awards 2020
May 2020
Play Africa's Bridges of Peace Named one of "100 Beautiful Things" in South Africa
May 2020
Innovation page created on
March 2020
Play Africa Launches New Programmes in Response to COVID-19
February 2020
Bridges of Peace Exhibit Launched at Constitution Hill with High Commission of Canada
November 2019
Children's Courtroom Launched at Bowmans with Constitutional Court Justice Zukisa Tshiqi and retired Justice Edwin Cameron
June 2018
Play Africa Keynote at MuseumNext: "Defining the Future of Museums" in London
May 2017
Play Africa Presents 3 Sessions at InterActivity Conference of Association of Children's Museums, Pasadena, CA, USA
March 2017
Play Africa Moves to Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, South Africa
August 2016
Play Africa Shares its Vision for the Future
June 2016
Play-based Learning: Educator Training Partnership with School District 12, Soweto, South Africa
March 2016
Soweto Launch of Art Across Oceans - Collaboration with Kohl Children's Museum of Greater Chicago
February 2016
Unpacking our First Major Exhibit in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, South Africa
May 2015
Play Africa Presents at Kohl Children's Museum, Glenview, IL, USA
May 2015
Play Africa Presents at InterActivity Conference in Indianapolis, IN, USA
April 2015
Play Africa Public Launch at GIBS, University of Pretoria, Illovo, johannesburg
October 2014
Play Africa Named "Best Emerging Social Enterprise in South Africa" by University of Johannesburg and PwC South Africa

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