On 13 November 2016, the Two Oceans Aquarium will celebrate 21 years of operation. We have put together a series of blogs to look back on the remarkable journey.

Marguerite Venter is the AfriSam Children's Play Centre supervisor, and the producer of our Puppet Stories shows and books.

The first puppet booth! 

The Two Oceans Aquarium AfriSam Children’s Play Centre is probably one of the best places to work. Being able to play, do crafts and interact with young children - and share what they consider to be a fun outing - is a privilege.

As a staff member, the experience gained in the centre is priceless as our visitors come from all walks of life, they differ in age, they visit with their parents, schools and even their nannies, and we get to meet and interact with all these wonderful, different people.

We had a few quieter years in the beginning, but these days we interact with about 30 000 young children per year!

Whatever we do in the centre is filled with fun facts and a dash of fantasy, which we incorporate into our daily crafts, activities and puppet shows.

The area first opened in 1998, with an interactive hands-on display. Soon after, a puppet show called Marine Food Chain was added along with some face painting, storytelling and giant floor puzzles. From there the centre developed more each year.

In 2006, having realised what a marvellous medium puppet shows are and with an increasing number of school group visits, we added a second puppet show called Keep the Beach Clean. We also moved the show to a more permanent puppet booth that didn’t have to be moved out of the way after each show.

In 2009 we gave the centre a proper make-over by giving it a beach theme and adding a sand pit.

In 2010 we added our first magnet wall, where we started off with some fridge magnet poetry, and a magnetic puzzle of Africa and the rest of the world. Today, our magnetic wall is one of our most popular activities and is currently filled with big puzzles of our Puppet Stories characters, and includes an activity to help clean the ocean.

In 2013 we realised that the puppet show stories are very popular and wanted to extend the learning experience beyond the Aquarium doors. The first Puppet Stories children’s book, Keep the Beach Clean, based on the popular puppet show, was launched. Today we have five different puppet shows, of which three have been turned into story books. Our story books are very popular and we have sold close to 20 000 since the launch of the first book in June 2013! We launch a new puppet show and story book every year and will launch the newest in the series early in 2017.

The arts and crafts activities are on the top of the popularity list. We’ve made more than 1 million crafts in the past 21 years, by between 50 and 300 children per day. Our crafts are mostly marine themed, but occasionally we’ll add other themes like during the 2010 FIFA World Cup or on special environmental days. We also always try to make our crafts by reusing materials.

We take so much pride in having an interactive centre with lots of different activities. Through the years we’ve added new activities, taken away others, always in an effort to meet the demand and needs of our special visitors. Our aim in the play centre is always to create a fun filled environment that supports the Aquarium’s purpose and values.

Here’s what our play centre staff members have to say about their life at the play centre.

Wafiqah Slamong (at the Aquarium since 2007)

“I started working in the AfriSam Children’s Play Centre in 2007 as a casual, and at the time it was called the Holcim Activity Centre. After being a tourism intern at the visitor services desk I resigned and a position opened in the centre, which I applied for and got. I have never looked back. It was then that I knew I was never going to pursue my career in tourism because I found something that I enjoyed doing.

“The highlight of working in the centre was always working with the kids, watching them create crafts to take home, seeing the enjoyment on their faces, watching the puppet shows and then, of course, I enjoy doing the puppet shows and hearing the kids laugh. I have been in the play centre for a long time and, as they say, change is always good, so now I am doing puppet shows at schools, which I am thoroughly enjoying. It actually made me love driving, which I dreaded before!”

Rafee’ah Ismail (at the Aquarium since 2012)

"My journey at the Two Oceans Aquarium started in the play centre in 2012. I worked as a weekend casual initially but after just two months, Marguerite [Venter] approached me with an opportunity to work on a full-time basis, which was very exciting as I was stagnating at home.

"Then, three months later I became pregnant with my son and I could officially call him an Aquarium baby – I am delighted to have surrounded my two children in such a wonderful place full of enlightenment."

Zingisa Mgumane (at the Aquarium since 2007)

“I love welcoming children and their parents to the play centre - to see them smiling and feeling welcome. I have so many priceless memories... Every day is priceless to me! What makes me smile is when sometimes I meet those children in the mall and they call me their 'friend from the Aquarium'. I also love watching them grow up right in front of me, they'll end up going to school but come back to visit me. In some cases I've ended up becoming friends with their parents.

"I also love coming up with ideas that open doors for other people. The Two Oceans Aquarium is like home to me.”

Aisha Martin (at the Aquarium since 2016)

“My highlights are when the children are interactive and enjoy the puppet shows.

"Being a part of assisting children to do the crafts and developing their skills is quite rewarding.

"Thus far it has been an amazing journey and the staff has been supportive and helpful in my development here at the Aquarium. The play centre has become my second home.”

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