Cherry and Geoff Howell have been an educational institution in the Constantia valley for the past 36 years. At the end of October, they are retiring.
On the counter of their Tokai shop is a photo taken in October 1991 of their first Hi Ho Cherry O educational toy shop at Forest Glade shopping centre. With them in the picture are their first customer, Linda Meierstein, and their daughters, Jessica and Bronwen, then aged 7 and 10. Their daughters have since spread their wings and moved to Britain and Australia.
Cherry and Geoff have only been able to visit them individually, but now that they are retiring they will be able to go together. Much more has changed since Cherry started selling educational toys by party plan in 1982. Back then, she says, there were few educational toys around.
After moving into that first shop, Geoff joined her six years later when the shop was moved to the petrol station down the road, also on Tokai Road. Cherry returned to teaching leaving Geoff to run it. She is a trained primary school teacher, with training in cognitive/remedial teaching using developmental aids for learning. She has taught at Pro Ed House School in Rondebosch and presently works at Wynberg Boys’ Junior School.
In June 2004, outgrowing the space at the petrol station, they joined up again to run the business in Meadowridge Park n Shop. They became an institution with a huge client base, not only in South Africa but also overseas. However, with the termination of their lease in 2014, they moved back to Tokai Road but to the other end, across from Blue Route Mall.
Cherry says online shopping is a growing phenomena as are electronic games. She says the technological age fills a portion of a child’s play time but should not become all-consuming. Playing games as a family and reading to a child have dropped in popularity, she says.
“And people see toys as a play thing, but everyone has recreational toys: a bicycle, a book, walking a dog.” She adds that people tend to buy brand names for children such as Lego.
“These are good for the tips of the fingers, but the child could end up having occupational therapy unless they use something like this,” she says, throwing a brightly coloured squidgy ball.
“This is good for strengthening the ligaments in the hand, used when holding a pencil, writing.”
Building blocks are good for imaginative play, she says. Working in the shop evolved into consultations, advising parents on what type of toys to use in the nine phases of childhood, she says.
“Toys for left brain, such as brain, arts and crafts, imaginative and fantasy play. And toys using gross- and fine-motor skills. From 2 to 3 years, children are sensitive to colours, they start drawing and problem solving,” she says.
Reading is the key to everything, she stresses. Children need to be able to take in information and they cannot take it all in visually (from a screen). Cherry believes in the importance of making teaching and learning, fun.