The Hummingbird Children’s Centre is a social enterprise and our vision is to develop a home-grown, replicable model for early learning services that are inclusive, sustainable and foster a love for learning and a connection with nature; and contribute towards creating more child friendly spaces in South Africa.


The hummingbird is the subject of an inspirational story told by the late Wangari Maathai, environmentalist and Africa’s first woman Nobel Peace Prize winner.  She tells the story of a hummingbird, one of the smallest creatures in the forest, who tries to save it from being destroyed by a fire.  While the other animals stand and watch, feeling powerless and overwhelmed by the size of the problem she perseveres.  When they mock her small efforts, she replies “I am doing the best I can”.  This sense of social responsibility is central to our ethos – to nurture and inspire children to be the hummingbird, to do the best they can, for themselves, for others and the environment.

These life lessons are best learnt through play.  We aim to provide children with the space, resources and opportunity to engage in deep meaningful play and learn experientially.  We also believe education is about teaching people how, not what, to think.  We recognise children as competent ‘researchers’, bursting with questions and our approach is to facilitate and guide them on their learning journey.

We want to help children develop into confident, competent individuals who also recognise their connection and interdependence with others and the environment.  The Centre is based on two learning approaches – Forest School and Reggio Emilia.  The former approach originates from the Scandinavian tradition of using the outdoor environment as a learning resource and not simply as a place for children to ‘let off steam’.  It has become an important aspect of early childhood pedagogy in Scandinavia, where the majority of early year’s settings use the outdoor environment all year round.  These are also countries deemed to have the highest levels of social development.  Over the past decade there has been a growing international interest in using the outdoor environment with children and young people as a way of developing skills and increasing motivation for learning. Setting achievable tasks and offering appropriate support provides the foundation for future learning.  The outdoors provides a relaxed setting where children will encounter challenges but not failure.

The acclaimed Reggio Emilia approach from Italy is a method that promotes:-collaboration among children, teachers and parents; the co-construction of knowledge; the interdependence of individual and social learning; and the role of culture in understanding this interdependence.  It is a dynamic and fluid approach that fuses the arts and sciences beautifully and allows children to be researchers and investigators, in control of their own knowledge formation.

Outdoor play and learning develops the following key competencies:  Inquisitiveness;  wonder; sharp attention;  experimental behaviour; imagination; exploration; resourcefulness; happiness and playfulness

Using the outdoor environment not only develops children’s physical and cognitive competencies, it also keeps them healthy. There is extensive research that shows children who spend a significant time outdoors each day:

  • have better motor skills
  • are less obese
  • have fewer infections and allergies
  • have well developed social skills
  • are less stressed
  • have fewer conflicts
  • are more creative


In order to make use of the space as a community asset but also remain financially viable the Centre will have four distinct projects which will rely on a mixed source of income – parental contributions, private and institutional donors.

The projects will be rolled out in 3 phases – first the preschool and after school club (private with some subsidised places); an Early Childhood Development outreach programme and finally the open access nature/adventure playground which will be accessible to all.

We hope that with this financial model we will be able to provide a much needed, high quality, preschool and maintain the space as a public treasure for the most important people in our community – our children.


Hummingbird will provide 30 places for children aged 2.5-5 years with an adult child ratio of 1: 5.

10 places will be subsidised through private and institutional donor funding.

2 places will be allocated for children with special needs and extra teaching support funded either by parents or subsidised.


The after school club will provide 50 places for children in the foundation phase (3-9 years.)  We will also aim to subsidise 15 places.


We will have a holiday programme for 50 children which will include free play in the outdoor classroom/adventure playground, structured activities, trips and special sessions from visiting artists and performers.


There are many informal creches and childminders in the area that have very limited space.  Children in these settings do not get to spend enough time outdoors or engage in messy, deep or sensory play which has a negative impact on their development and future learning.  Children with disabilities and special needs are also severely under serviced and need to be mainstreamed into ECD services.

To address this we would like to:

Invite children and their carers/parents to use the playground facilities between 9.30-11.30am.  This will be on the same site but separate from the preschool.

Transport will be provided for ECD centres not in walking distance
A nutritious lunch will be served at the end of the session.
Carers as well as the children benefit from this interaction.  It provides an opportunity to meet other carers/educators, learn about different activities, share ideas as well as providing a much needed change of scenery.
To maximise the space as a community asset the playground will be open on weekends.From 10am – 4pm, in three 2 hour sessionsThere will be 3 trained adults on site.

Children under 6 must be supervised by a carer (+16 years).

The majority of sessions will be free play with storytelling or puppet show at the end.  When possible structured activities – music, movement and dance or arts and crafts based – will also be on offer.

We would also like to explore running an income-generating café, which would also create two local jobs.

No smoking, alcohol or loud music will be allowed on the premises.


The main feature of the Centre is the outdoor classroom and playground.  It will be an awe-inspiring, constantly evolving space. And children will be engaged in its design and maintenance. We aim to model best practice in green and child friendly design. 

Some of the features of the playground include:

Dens and climbing trees/structures;Sand and digging pits;Building area/workshop – introducing children to tools, construction & carpentry from recycled materials; mural painting wall; Zip line;Sunken trampolines;Food forest; Mini farm and more…!




    • Mandla Langa says:

      A very thoughtful initiative. I will make sure it gets seen by people I correspond with in various groups such as LinkedIn. Well done, people.
      Mandla Langa

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