KaBOOM! News

Underplayed: Why Risky Play Is Not the Issue


Dad and SonLast Friday, Rush Limbaugh assigned his listeners homework. He asked them to read Hanna Rosin's Atlantic piece, "The Overprotected Kid," and then to call his show and tell him what they thought of it. Invariably, audience members dialed in and lamented the decline of an era when American parents gave their kids the freedom to skin their knees, sprain their ankles, and return home at dark for supper.

Whether or not you agree that today's affluent, "helicopter parents" are over-supervising their kids' playtime, Hanna Rosin's piece was not intended to address the challenges of the one in five American kids living in poverty. For these young people, the operative question is not whether their play is over- or under-chaperoned. Rather, it's how can we, collectively, ensure that they have safe places and regular opportunities to play at all?

"The Overprotected Kid" describes today's middle-class parents as paranoid and afraid to leave their children alone because of perceived dangers. But in many communities where kids in poverty grow up, the dangers are all too real. For these kids, the primary goal should not be to introduce more danger, but rather to make sure they get the support and attention of caring adults that they need to thrive.

This is why KaBOOM! and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts have launched the America's Most Playful Family contest, which showcases families that are finding creative ways to make play a part of their everyday lives. We have received submissions from an extraordinarily diverse cross-section of American life, from the family who can't afford a karate lesson but serves up a dance party with dinner, to parents who hand their kids a soccer ball instead of an iPad. For these families, play is not a destination, but rather a way of life. We need to make it easier for all families to play actively together—on the city sidewalk, at the bus stop, in the neighborhood park, in the school yard, on the front stoop and even in the living room. And that won't happen without families, schools, communities, and cities getting involved.

Like Rosin, we agree that "reasonable" risks are essential for a child's healthy development. We are fans of so-called "dangerous" playgrounds, ourselves. But the risks that kids face when adults don't provide them with safe opportunities to play are far from reasonable—and this is what we really need to be talking about.

Today's kids play less than any generation before them, and rates of childhood obesity, ADHD, and toxic stress have skyrocketed as a result. Now is the time to change the conversation. Play matters. Without it, no child can reach her full potential.

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Building human capital from the playground up

Last week, New York Times columnist David Brooks underscored the importance to our nation of expanding opportunities for underprivileged children, highlighting recent efforts to promote human capital development. Brooks argued that while academics, especially during the early developmental stages of childhood, are critically important, more emphasis needs to be placed on building social and emotional skills. Brooks contended that we won’t be able to expand opportunity for millions of students if they are unable to make good choices, build strong relationships, or persevere when faced with challenges.

We agree with Brooks that preparing the next generation for success requires a broad view of child development. Through our work providing more and better play opportunities for low-income children in communities across the United States, we know that children cannot reach their full potential if they are denied the essence of childhood – the opportunity to play. Play is an essential part of the solution to expanding opportunities for low-income children because it leads to active bodies, active minds and active interaction together with peers, family and other caring adults – all of which are necessary for healthy child development.

According to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, particularly for children who are faced with limited resources, it is essential that parents, families, schools and communities promote the lifelong benefits of play. The report notes that play helps children foster school engagement while enhancing their cognitive readiness, learning behaviors and problem-solving abilities, simultaneously aiding in the development of social and emotional ties.

Simply put, play is a fundamental building block for the human capital development Brooks persuasively asserts is a critical national imperative. However, in low-income communities, where neighborhoods are unsafe and schools are cutting back on recess, children lack the opportunity to play actively every day. Whether it is on the playground, in the classroom or at home, we need to ensure that all children get the play they need to thrive. It is time to give children the childhood they deserve.

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Keeping Cities Diverse and Family-Friendly Through Play


In an Atlantic Cities article published earlier this week—“The Decline of the Family-Friendly City”—Kaid Benfield asked, “In our rush to promote higher-density urbanism, are we inadvertently creating child-free zones that are inhospitable to families with kids? And, if so, are we diminishing part of the cultural diversity that makes great cities?”

Benfield answers yes—urban areas are increasingly unfriendly to children and this does diminish the greatness of cities. He also suggests that the solution includes investment in child-friendly infrastructure—playgrounds, parks, kid-friendly restaurants, and so on. In other words, we need to create urban environments that enable children to play.

We at KaBOOM! could not agree more. Childhood obesity is at record-high levels, childhood stress and depression is on the rise, and, economically, our demand for creative problem-solvers is out-pacing the number of potential employees with this skill. These challenges disproportionately impact children growing up in poverty, many of whom live in dense cities from Atlanta to Washington, D.C.

Faced with this reality, and armed with the knowledge that play has been shown to make kids healthier, happier, and more creative, we’ve made it our bold goal to ensure that all children, particularly the 16 million American children growing up in poverty, get the play they need to thrive.

As Benfield points out, there is growing momentum to increase walkability in cities across the country, as more and more people seek more active and environmentally-friendly lifestyles. Now is the time to accelerate the playability movement. There are encouraging signs from innovative cities that are leveraging underutilized resources and unexpected spaces in creative ways to make play the easy option for families—from play trails in Pierre, S.D., to Chicago, Ill., undergoing a holistic investment for play in schools and communities. Join us in creating truly great, playable cities where children play everywhere and can reach their full potential.

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Marketing a playful cause

“We've always tried to look for things that are innovative and creative, even though they tend to be a little bit risky—a little bit different. As long as they have the potential upside, we think it's worth doing. That's been a hallmark for the organization,” said Bruce Bowman, president of KaBOOM! during a recent interview on CauseTalk Radio.

Joe Waters of SelfishGiving.com and Megan Strand of the Cause Marketing Forum hosted Bowman to discuss the new partnership with imagine toys and the Go Out and Play collection. It features items that enable kids to get the balance of play they need to thrive, promoting active minds, active bodies and being active together. Proceeds from the collection benefit KaBOOM!, while shoppers also have the option of adding a donation during check-out. More importantly, it generates awareness for the cause of play and introduces KaBOOM! to new advocates who also believe kids need to play actively every day.

The project is a unique case-study in cause-marketing collaboration. “This is something different that an organization like yours is doing and I think we're going to see even more of it as the years go by because it does represent a really in-depth partnership,” said Waters.

Listen to the full interview or browse the creative product line

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Remembering Superstorm Sandy: Recovering through play


Words cannot describe how grateful I am by all the work you all at KaBOOM! did for Long Beach. The new playground is fantastic and even better than before! I cannot wait for my little girl to be able to play there. In just a few more months, she'll at least be on the swing set! Again, thank you for everything. This project was definitely the best volunteering experience I have ever had." - Anthony Dalto, Long Beach, N.Y.

Hurricane Sandy struck Long Beach, N.Y., one year ago today, leaving an incredible path of destruction in its wake. Like many residents in the northeast, Long Beach residents lost their homes, their schools and their neighborhoods because of the catastrophic storm. Like many communities, Long Beach also lost one of the few places for children to play: Magnolia Playground.

As many in the northeast would also determine, Long Beach residents realized that in the aftermath of such a monumental natural disaster that play becomes even more critical because it creates a sense of normalcy and provides an emotional outlet for children during a time of extreme stress. So, in addition to many homes and schools needing to be rebuilt, children needed a place to play.

On May, 18, 2013, 242 volunteers from the Long Beach community joined with local organization Surf For All, the City of Long Beach, JetBlue and KaBOOM! to rebuild Magnolia Playground. In less than eight hours, volunteers built a child-designed playground that will serve thousands of children for years to come.

The Long Beach project marked the first of 11 playground builds to be built in 2013 directly by KaBOOM! and our partners, including BNP Paribas, Disney, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Good Neighbor Pharmacy, JetBlue and UnitedHealthcare. Even Queen Latifah pitched in to bring play to Sandy survivors.

The last of these 11 playground projects will be completed on Saturday, when more than 200 volunteers will build a brand new playground at The Community YMCA Family Health and Wellness Center, which serves hundreds of children and families affected by Hurricane Sandy in Red Bank, N.J.

These 11 playgrounds covering more than 27,000 square feet will eventually serve more than 30,000 children and will have been built by more than 2,500 volunteers donating more than 20,000 hours of service.

Additionally, KaBOOM! partnered with Creative Circle, JetBlue and UnitedHealthcare to donate Imagination Playground to four child-serving organizations in the northeast following the storm.

As tremendous as these projects are, our work is not done. There are still thousands of children in Sandy-affected areas and millions of children across North America who do not have a place to play. You can help KaBOOM! give children the childhoods they deserve by taking action to ensure that all children have access to a playground. 

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Grand Rapids Children's Museum: Permission to Play

Grand Rapids Children's Museum - Block TableThe Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (GRCM) celebrates childhood and the joy of learning by providing an interactive, hands-on environment that inspires learning and encourages self-directed exploration. In the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., a Playful City USA community, the GRCM has celebrated 16 years of play with over 2 million guests. Enjoy this guest blog post from the GRCM.

Play is an essential part of life—specifically unguided, open-ended, free play. The kind of play that has no right or wrong answer: creativity and imagination without a specific end product. In other words, play for play’s sake.

The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (GRCM), located in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., is committed to play and part of that commitment is giving our guests, adults as well as children, permission to play.

Perhaps nothing demonstrates this idea more than the museum’s most unique exhibit: our staff.

Our floor staff, or Facilitators do not direct play; they do not give specific instructions, but invite our guests, adult and child alike, to play with them. They facilitate play by asking open-ended questions (“What are you making?”), engaging in parallel play (playing along-side or near a child in a similar activity, but not directly with the child until they invite the staff member to join), or by simply asking if they can help with what the child is creating. This not only leads to very unique creations but also demonstrates some simple ways to continue playing at home.

Grand Rapids Children's Museum - Two-Story Ball RunWhen the GRCM celebrated our 15th anniversary last year, we were fortunate to be able to share a new exhibit, Imagination Playground, with the community. No other exhibit illustrates the concept of open-ended play as well as Imagination Playground. It’s a wonderful catalyst for collaboration. Parents and teachers immerse themselves in the creative experience with the children (and our staff).

We often joke that our Facilitators have enjoyed Imagination Playground even more than our guests. Nearly every day, the office receives a call inviting the administrative team to come and see a new creation—a fort, a throne, a robot, a boat or two-story ball run—that the Facilitators and guests have made together. More recently, we were able to borrow a Rigamajig (formerly Workyard Kit), which is very similar to a large Erector Set, and were happy to see some even more elaborate creations.

Grand Rapids Children's Museum - Braydon BalanceWhile we continue to provide a number of experiences and exhibits that would be difficult to replicate at home, one thing we do try to impart on our guests is how easy it is to play. In February 2013, GRCM launched a “What Can You Do With a Spoon?” campaign (see video below) to get people thinking about ways to play, even with items that normally wouldn’t be thought of as toys, and demonstrate how easy it can be to include some play every day.

The enthusiasm and imagination of our staff inspires play. It invites museum guests of all ages to join in the fun, letting them share in the joy of making a giant bubble, the excitement of showing off a Lego airplane, the thrill of putting on a fire-fighter helmet and piloting a helicopter. But we strive for more than having fun while visiting the museum. We hope that their experience here carries over into their play at home and that they allow the kids in their lives to guide the activity. That they remember to ask open-ended questions like “What are you building?” “What are drawing?” We hope that our guests take with them the idea that play really is for everyone and that everyone, regardless of age, should take time every day to enjoy some play. You have our permission.

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Queen Latifah featured KaBOOM! and Let’s Play on October 15

In an event fit for a queen, 229 volunteers from Dr Pepper Snapple Group, AmeriCorps and the local community near Seaside Heights, N.J., rallied together to build a brand new playground across the street from Hugh J. Boyd Elementary on August 27.

However, this was no typical playground build. The volunteers and 167 children present for the playground build were joined by royalty: Queen Latifah!

A New Jersey native, Queen Latifah knew first-hand about the devastating effects of Superstorm Sandy on Seaside Heights. Boyd Elementary was severely damaged by the storm and its playground was rendered useless, leaving children in Seaside Heights without a playground.

All kids need a balance of all kinds of active play every day to thrive. That becomes even more important after a traumatic event like Superstorm Sandy, because play helps kids process their emotions and gives them a sense of normalcy amidst the chaos. "We know how critical it is that kids are very active. It's critical to their development," said Queen Latifah.

Committed to ensuring that children have a great place to play, Queen Latifah partnered with Dr Pepper Snapple Group and KaBOOM! to build a new playground for children in Seaside Heights, bringing along her show’s crew to document the build day.

The segment about the Seaside Heights project aired on the Queen Latifah Show on October 15.

The kids were thrilled when Queen Latifiah surprised them with an army of more than 200 volunteers ready to build them a new playground. Queen Latifah herself jumped right in to help, assembling playground equipment. Emotions were high as this incredibly resilient community united to bring the gift of play to its children.

The Seaside Heights project was part of the Let’s Play initiative—a community partnership led by Dr Pepper Snapple Group to get kids and families active nationwide. In 2011, Dr Pepper Snapple Group made a $15 million, three-year commitment to KaBOOM! to build or fix up 2,000 playgrounds, benefiting an estimated five million children across North America.

Dr Pepper Snapple Group and KaBOOM! will continue to help this seaside town rebuild with another playground project on October 23, just before the one year anniversary of SuperStorm Sandy.

Interested in having a KaBOOM! playground in your neighborhood? See what it takes to become a Community Partner.

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Cities champion play at inaugural summit

For the first time, municipal and thought leaders from around the country gathered to chart a path to make sure that all kids get the play they need to thrive. Representatives from 53 cities, 30 states, and three countries came together at the inaugural Playful City USA Leaders' Summit, hosted by KaBOOM! and sponsored by the Humana Foundation, to declare loud and clear that they value play. The nearly 200 participants rolled up their sleeves and spent an intense two days on an issue that—thanks to the efforts of many at the summit—is gaining increasing attention.

Participants engaged with an impressive list of speakers and presenters, including Secretaries Kathleen Sebelius and Arne Duncan, journalist Cokie Roberts, Walter Isaacson, author of the best-selling biography Steve Jobs, and 12 mayors, about how play contributes to positive outcomes for children and communities. From building 21st century workforce skills, to reversing the trend in childhood obesity rates, to renewing urban areas, investing in play is an investment in our future.

"Cities are critical when it comes to achieving play-related outcomes because most play-focused infrastructure investment, policies, and programming happen at the local level," said Darell Hammond, Founder and CEO of KaBOOM!. "That's why KaBOOM! created the Playful City USA program in 2007 to recognize municipalities who are prioritizing play. It was great to have many of our Playful City USA communities at our inaugural summit."

Some highlights:

  • When Walter Isaacson said, "If you believe in education..." The Honorable Arne Duncan completed his sentence with "...you've got to believe in play."
  • Pierre, South Dakota, showed how they turned a trail system into a multi-generational playspace by adding play pods along the trail.
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted that the medical community no longer uses the term "adult-onset diabetes," since it is now so common in obese children, then noted the physical benefits of active play.
  • A team from the Playful City USA community of Providence, R.I., demonstrated how collaboration between non-profits and government is creating great places to play. Providence was one of 12 cross-sector teams from cities who were at the center of the summit.
  • New research revealed that the reason most parents and kids cite for going to the playground is stress relief—which is critically important as we have a growing understanding of the near- and long-term effects of toxic stress.

 

"At Humana, we believe in making fun things healthy and healthy things fun. The Humana Foundation is proud to be the official sponsor of the KaBOOM! Playful City USA Leaders' Summit, working hand in hand with those on the front lines of our nation' cities to create safe places for people of all ages to live and play together," said Virginia Kelly Judd, Executive Director, Humana Foundation.

In closing remarks, best-selling author Wes Moore aptly said, "This is about more than playgrounds, monkey bars, and trampolines. It's about our children." The audience rose in thunderous applause and we couldn't agree more. The summit made clear that there is a growing movement to give all children the childhood they deserve by ensuring they get the active play they need to thrive.

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