Across the United States, urban leaders are implementing a powerful idea: To compete, they need play.
In order to attract and retain the businesses, jobs, and residents who breathe energy and enterprise into their neighborhoods, they first need to foster family-friendly, kid-friendly environments that promote play everywhere, while addressing the needs of underserved communities.
At KaBOOM!, we call this idea playability, the extent to which a city makes it easy for all kids to get balanced and active play. Because play matters for all kids. And this week, in partnership with the Humana Foundation—the philanthropic arm of Humana, Inc. –our Playful City USA initiative is honoring 212 cities and towns in 43 states that make playability a part of their community-wide agenda.
Together, these communities represent the vanguard of a national playability movement. They are finding creative ways to meet the needs of families, grow their economies, and become more competitive. And, in the process, they are solving some of our nation's most pressing challenges on the scale that they exist.
For instance, these cities know that play can help young people manage toxic stress, an epidemic among children in low-income neighborhoods, and an issue at the heart of our work. This is why, in Washington D.C. , the Play DC initiative is redefining playgrounds as community spaces in which young people can cope with and positively release their stress. It is why, in Brownsville, Texas–recently named the poorest city in the country–city leaders recently broke ground on the community's first walking trail and handicapped-accessible playground. Families that ordinarily would struggle to find safe, public opportunities to get active are now discovering that their city is making it easy for their kids to play everywhere.
These cities know that play can spark creativity and resilience, two of the most important leadership- and job-skills of the 21st century, while enriching all other aspects of learning from the STEM disciplines to critical thinking and analysis. This is why the City of Chicago, under the leadership of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is delivering on their ambitious goal to ensure that every child lives within a seven-minute walk to a park or playground, while extending the school day to bring back recess, physical education, and the arts.
Play is essential for young people's health and wellness, as well. It builds muscles, expands minds, and forges friendships. Cities like Baton Rouge, Louisiana, have launched in-school programs that teach students about balance by getting active, eating better, and spending less time in front of screens. In Baton Rouge's case, the city also introduced a mobile recreation unit called "BREC on the Geaux," which brings play equipment to underserved neighborhoods.
These inspiring efforts are just the beginning. These cities and our other 2014 Playful City USA honorees are setting a great example for others to consider and to follow.
Moreover, they have not simply relegated play to the playground. They have made the positive choice the easy choice by ensuring that kids—and the supportive, engaged adults who care for them—have the opportunity to play everywhere, from the sidewalk to the bus stop. With partners like the Humana Foundation, KaBOOM! is calling on communities all across the country to do the same, ensuring that all kids, particularly the 16 million growing up in poverty, have the childhood they deserve—a childhood filled with the play they need to thrive. When cities invest in playability, they set in motion a virtuous cycle. More opportunities for play attract more families, which leads to economic competitiveness. When cities make good on the promise of play, all of their residents have an opportunity to be happy, healthy, and to contribute to their community's overall vitality.
Last month, Jennie Ito, founder and play and toy Consultant for The Play Kitchen, shared a wonderful story with KaBOOM! about her son and his favorite book, My Dream Playground! Written by KaBOOM! Vice President of Program Management Kate Becker, the book tells the story of a determined young girl who makes her dream playground a reality with the help of her family, friends and community. Jennie’s son Benjamin loved the story so much he chose to share My Dream Playground with his preschool class at the Children’s House of Los Altos. The children in Benjamin’s class were so warmed and excited by the book that they turned it into inspiration for a fun class project and had each child design their very own “dream playground."
Kids need a balance of active play every day in order to become happy, healthy, and successful adults.
We know that play is most fun when it's spontaneous, interactive, and creative. So, KaBOOM! spoke with Benjamin’s teacher, Kiri Fluetsch, to shed more light on how My Dream Playground inspired the kids in Children’s House of Los Altos preschool class to imagine, create and play.
What were some of the kids' reactions after reading My Dream Playground?
“I want to make a playground.”
“What does dream mean?”
“They built it!”
“That looks fun!”
“I want to play there!”
“How did she draw that?”
Our children connected with this story, especially since it was paired with our building unit and our discussions of the building process. My Dream Playground helped show the children the process of building something that was exciting to them, something they have seen in their world and enjoy at school every day.
How did it feel to see the kids' excitement about play after reading My Dream Playground?
The conversations on the playground were amazing. The kids would reference the book, and ask who built their playground. They wondered if children were a part of the planning process and if they got to wear hardhats! As an early childhood educator, watching the children transfer their knowledge from the playground to the story was a great experience. Watching their cognitive processes advance through this story was truly wonderful.
What are some things these kids have learned from My Dream Playground, and how is it inspired them?
We have talked about following your dreams, working to the best of your ability to make your dreams come true, and working together to achieve a goal. The children have created their own dream playgrounds and described their choices for the layout of their dream playgrounds. Each child had to have swings!
How has the topic or perception of play changed in your classrooms since reading My Dream Playground?
I don’t think our perception of play has changed, however, we have been more aware of the children’s thinking process and fostering their ability to think and plan. We have made more opportunities for the children to plan and draw what inspires them.
Do you have plans of continuing or incorporating more activities focused on play? If so, how?
We have incorporated many activities that focus on play. We continuously change our dramatic play area to represent certain themes; it is currently a newspaper office. We have been working on dramatic play activities, such as acting out books and songs. Our schedule also allows for the children to have most of the day for discovering and exploring. The children have many opportunities to play and foster their wants and needs with their peers through activities and materials in both the indoor and outdoor environments.
Why do you think play is important?
As an accredited school through the National Association of the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) we believe that play is important for developing self-regulation, as well as promoting language, cognition and social competence. Play gives children opportunities to interact with others, explore their world, express and control their emotions as well as learning problem solving techniques.
In this April 17 edition of the Third Metric series, HuffPost Live explores the importance of play with KaBOOM! CEO, Darell Hammond. From playgrounds to our own backyards, how do we let go and embrace the art of playing more?
Hosted by HuffPost Live's Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani, Darell was joined by Christina Ramirez, a mother and former preschool teach, and Dr. Vasco Lopes, a child psychologist from Child Mind Institute. The group discussed how cities and communities, in addition to parents and caregivers, can play a key role in creating the opportunities for kids to experience a balance of play that they need to thrive.
Enjoy this guest post from our friends at 1000 Hours Outside, a blog that encourages parents to take their kids outside more and discover the amazing benefits of play.
We know spring weather is hit-or-miss. Here are five reasons to check your 10-day forecast and schedule in spring outdoor time for the days when you're not buried in snow or rain.
Jen, Lisa, and Ginny are moms who have a passion for getting kids outdoors. Stemming from their backgrounds in health, fitness, and education, they are passionate about rivaling screen time with open-air dwelling. They are working to spotlight the myriad of health and developmental benefits that outside playtime provides. They have nine kids amongst them who all love running, building, picnicking, crawling, playing and napping in the open air. Their blog, 1000 Hours Outside is meant to encourage moms, dads, and caregivers everywhere to purposefully schedule outdoor time for their kids. 1000 Hours Outside hosts monthly prize and product giveaways to give families that extra incentive to make this investment into vibrant and healthy childhoods.
The origin of the “high five” is widely unknown, but one thing is for sure: high fives are a great way to show you care and leave you and a friend feeling energized. A simple high five can say so many things. In honor of National High Five Day, here are five reasons high fives make the world a happier place!
High fives build communities
High fives are an easy way to show encouragement, seal a deal, or simply say, “Hey!” Some of the greatest relationships can be formed by sharing a high five. It’s just like a hug—for your hand!
High fives increase positivity
A high five is a surefire way to brighten someone’s day. Typically a high five comes with a smile, which we all know is contagious. Next time you see someone looking a bit blue, give them a high five. It’s guaranteed to bring a smile to their face!
High fives spark laughter
High fives can be silly and creative depending on how far you let your imagination travel. Next time you plan to give a high five, get creative! Do an around-the-back high five; try it while jumping in the air, or surprise a friend with confetti in your hand. The ensuing laughter will be priceless!
High fives encourage play
What may start out as a high five could potentially end up in a simple game of tag or an all-out tickle war! Remember high fives can happen anytime and anywhere, just like play!
High fives will never go out of style
High fives have been around forever, and they will continue to be around as long as we keep being friendly, keep encouraging one another, and keep playing. So go out and share some high fives! There’s no doubt it will make someone’s day!
Last 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.
Where else do life-sized Tamagotchi Friends greet you at the door? Where else can you get a photo with the original Grumpy Cat? Where else can you get a glimpse into all the new toy trends that are soon to hit retailer shelves across the nation?
Toy Fair, that's where!
The American International Toy Fair, sponsored by the Toy Industry Association, is the ultimate gathering for toy industry professionals. Designers, manufacturers, and retailers flock to this annual event at New York City’s Javits Center to showcase their wares, check out the latest in innovative product lines, and gather insight into the newest industry trends.
Last week, the KaBOOM! team (Boomers) joined in the fun to explore new innovations for the Go Out and Play Collection and uncover ways to bring these great ideas from the fair to the families in the communities with which we work.
One big thing we noticed was, like KaBOOM!, the industry focus is that children—and the adults around them—should seek quality play opportunities not just in the traditionally designated playspaces, but everywhere.
Understanding that play cannot be confined to a specific activity type or place, the toys and trends we saw really promote active minds, active bodies, and being active together. But as good Boomers do, we inserted a little play into our work. While gathering crucial insights, our investigative play team made sure to test several products to make doubly sure how much fun could be had! There were a few that stuck out in the crowd.
Our Boomers made it our mission to seek out the best active play products. What we found were a lot of toys that make playtime edgier, challenging you to move faster, bounce higher or bring more friends into activities.
The Wing Flyer by Zike combines elliptical pedal movement with a sleek scooter frame. We have to admit that we crashed a couple of times, but that just made it all the more fun!
“Wow, you got a lot of air!”
Boomers were impressed by the bounce in the Jungle Jumperoo. The promotional materials note that 10 minutes of jumping is equal to 33 minutes of running. We’ll have to do some more research into that claim, but we definitely all broke into a sweat after testing it out.
You wouldn’t think it, but walking on stilts takes a ton of balance, core strength, and coordination! It was a challenge, but our Boomer tester had a lot of fun trying!
“Retro” games were also huge at this year’s Toy Fair. These games and toys brought back classic childhood games with a new twist.
Giant Connect Four made the much-loved game larger than life!
Made by the creators of the original pogo stick, the Flybar uses elastomeric thrusters to bounce fully grown riders up to four feet off the ground.
Integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—also known as STEM—concepts was another big theme. In particular, toys specifically geared to engage girls in STEM learning seemed to be almost everywhere we turned.
In recent years, there has been growing attention given to the low number of women who are entering STEM-based careers. To try and bridge this gap, there has been an increase in popular demand for more STEM-inspired toys geared toward girls. This market has grown in popularity and has been taken on by a number of manufacturers.
You can never go wrong with classic creative construction sets, like this one from Brio, sold in the United States by Schylling. (And if you’re into creative construction on a larger scale, be sure to check out Imagination Playground and Rigamajig!)
Makey Makey is one of the newest products that aims to teach basic circuitry through hands-on, well, making! Those bananas? They’re not for eating, though we were definitely hungry by the time we got here. They’re for making music!
No Toy Fair would be complete without games that engage the creative spirit. Going further than the traditional arts and crafts kits, many products aimed to engage active and inventive minds in a collaborative setting.
Why should Tom Hanks be the only one who gets to act like a "big" kid? The Step-to-Play Giant Piano Mat encourages kids to make music while dancing. Bonus: They might even sit still during piano lessons.
The Big Creativity Can by Faber-Castell includes a handful of open-ended materials—like clay, feathers and popsicle sticks—that allow kids of all ages to push their imaginations to the limit.
Even though we found many great toys at the Fair, it’s good to keep in mind that getting a balance of active play every day doesn’t necessitate having a game or toy. Sometimes, all you need is a friend, family and a little creativity.
For more information on the KaBOOM! Go Out and Play Collection and how you can help support KaBOOM!, go to kaboom.org/store.
Good news: you’re already making a difference and the new year just started. Those who gave in 2013 are helping to make stories like Kenneth’s possible for even more children in 2014. Watch this video and see how play is creating positive change for kids like Kenneth. (Want more? Watch Kenneth's first, second, and third videos, too!).
Play is a powerful thing and, by supporting it, you’re giving kids the childhood they deserve.
Thank you for making play possible for children across the country.
Play can change a person's childhood.
When Kenneth was in kindergarten, KaBOOM! built a playground at his school and Kenneth began to play more outside. His grades improved from B's and C's, to A's and B's.
Where other kids are getting an average of 8 hours of screen time a day, Kenneth is getting outside and playing. The playground led to changes in his life. Hear what Kenneth has to say about play in his third video, below. (And, don't forget to watch Kenneth's first and second videos too!)
Kids really do need a playground. Help give kids like Kenneth the childhood they deserve.
Enjoy this guest post from our friends at 1000 Hours Outside, a blog that encourages parents to take their kids outside more and discover the amazing benefits of play.
Think back on your most vivid childhood memories. Do they center around toys or do they center around experiences? I certainly remember some of my favorite toys like my wooden dollhouse, scooter, and Skip-It, but my main recollections are around experiences and books I read. I remember father-daughter canoe trips down the Ausable River in Michigan and piano lessons with my mom. I remember curling up with my Nancy Drew books in this cool bed tent thing my parents bought me. I remember doing crossword puzzles with my mom and lots of family game nights. The childhood things that usually leave the greatest mark do not typically come in a box.
With the holidays around the corner we wanted to offer up top five gifts for the playing family. Our hope is that these suggestions provide memorable childhood and family experiences.
1) Loose Parts Toys
Give your child the gift of imagination this holiday season. Loose parts toys are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, taken apart, and put back together in all sorts of ways. Loose parts can be used alone or combined with other materials. There’s no set of specific directions for materials that are considered loose parts. The child is the direction. Children tend to prefer loose parts over fancy toys. As the joke often goes, a child will play with the box a toy came in more than the toy itself. Loose parts toys that don't come in a fancy box are items like pinecones, shells, beads, stumps, logs, rope, crates, boxes, buckets, and fabric. Loose parts toys you can buy from a store are items like The Tegu Explorer Set, Wooden Tool Box, Think-Its, and Legos. (As with all toys be careful of choking hazards for young children.)
2) Art and Craft Supplies
Art is good for kids. In a similar fashion to the benefits of free play, letting kids spend time doing open-ended art projects provides many developmental benefits. Art teaches problem solving and open-ended thinking. It develops the whole brain as children increase their ability to focus, think ahead, and work on their hand-eye coordination. There is research showing that children who do art read better and do better in math or science. Art gifts help children express themselves. Here are a few of our favorites: Travel Easel, Young Artist Finger Paint Set, and Drawing Studio.
3) Fort Building Kit
Holiday presents can get pricey, especially when it comes to electronics. However, something as simple as a fort-building kit can be inexpensive and yet provide hours of imaginative play for families. Children adore secret hiding places. Your kit could include rope, sheets, clothespins, or a tub of PVC pipes. Don't forget a flashlight!
4) Outdoor Clothing
Just as a hoophouse or greenhouse extends a growing season, a good wool underlayer, rain suit, or boots can extend your outdoor season. Remember the saying: "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." Provide your child with the gift of outdoor play year round. This is where the memories are made!
5) Step back.
It seems that there is already a natural inclination for kids to get outside. We spent time learning some baby sign language when our kids were younger and the sign for "outside" was one they all picked up on quickly and signed often! From increased exercise and activity to better eyesight to enhanced problem solving skills the list of things gained from time spent in vast outdoors is an extraordinary one. Let's buy our kids items that further the lure of the open air. Even if these must be packed away for a few months due to weather you will be happy with your investment come spring! We have all of these on our wish list: Skylight Rocket, 3 Wheeled Scooter, Backyard Slackline, Zipline Adventure, and ChalkTrail for Bikes!
Jen, Lisa and Ginny are moms (both part-time working and stay at home) who have a passion for getting kids outdoors. Stemming from their backgrounds in health and fitness and education, they are driven by trying to provide a carefree childhood coupled with all the health and developmental benefits that outside time provides. They have nine kids amongst them who all love running, building, picnicking, playing and napping in the open air. Their blog, 1000 Hours Outside, is meant to encourage moms and caregivers everywhere to take their kids outside more and discover all of the amazing benefits. 1000 Hours Outside hosts monthly gift card and product giveaways to give families that extra incentive to make this investment into free play in the open air.