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"Play. That's the best way kids learn -- doing something they enjoy." Trish Thomas, America's Most Playful Family Contest winner
Enjoy this guest blog post from Patrick McDonnell.
About a year ago, I saw an article about musical, light-weight swings at a bus stop in Montreal. Fascinated, I began researching and stumbled upon a few other swing projects like the Water-Fall Swing by Dash 7 and the Red Swing Project. After learning about the other projects, I was inspired to create something similar in Dallas that brought back childhood memories and was affordable.
In April 2013, I went to an outdoor market held in an empty parking lot, and it occurred to me that the lot would go back to being empty as soon as the market was over. A light bulb went off. Why not put a swing set in an empty parking lot, so that the space could be useful and active after market hours—and yet still be used as a parking lot during the day and weekends?
In June, I came across the HOLSTEE Fellowship while reading articles on GOOD. HOLSTEE, the folks who wrote the "Go Live Your Life" Manifesto, were giving away monthly $1,000 grants to individuals to seed their dream project. I entered the mobile "Swing Park" - a pop-up swing set to transform a parking lot into a park.
I made a 60-second video, and was selected to compete for the public vote on Facebook. People in Dallas helped me campaign from July 1–10 and I won! In August, I received the grant and began to build.
Initially, I wanted to use reclaimed wood to build big, elegant two-person swings inspired by visual artist Ann Hamilton's "The Event of a Thread," a large-scale art installation in New York City. But function quickly trumped form since the swing was going to be outside and had to be mobile. Instead of a wood frame, I decided to use a metal one and made it detachable.
I bought most of the materials on a playground equipment website SwingSetMall.com, and purchased the metal poles and sandbags at The Home Depot, spending a total of $975.37 of the $1,000 HOLSTEE grant.
Here are the materials I used:
The Swing Park debuted at this year’s PARK(ing) Day celebration in Dallas. PARK(ing) Day is a global event where citizens reclaim a parking space and transform it into a mini park to promote people-friendly streets and the importance of public spaces. Parks range from yoga classes to pet adoption areas to book giveaways to lounges.
I spent about three hours pre-assembling the swing structure. On PARK(ing) Day, it took twenty minutes to unload it and set it up.
I’m happy to report a few people have contacted me about creating their own Swing Parks. In Dallas, I’m continuing to pop-up the Swing Park around town at different events and eventually want to transition it to a more permanent venue.
My hope is that Swing Parks become a new way to create mini play areas in neglected urban environments like empty parking lots and bus stops, desolate underpasses, dead plazas, or other overlooked city corners that could use a bit of whimsy and fun and serve as a place for people to come together.
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.
As the saying goes, "The years fly by, but the hours are long." Raising a family can seem grueling at times and there's an endless amount of choices surrounding how to spend our years rearing children. Of all the options out there, free play and providing time to "just be a kid" often gets lost in the mix. However, the research is out and it points to the overwhelming importance of play. Whether you've always known this or it's just coming to the forefront of your parenting practices, here are five quick ways to infuse play into everyday life.
1) Find a nearby trail.
Use your city's parks and recreation website or look for trails through your local or state parks. There is so much variety in nature. Your kids will be engaged from the moment you step on the path. As a general rule we try and stick with trails that are less than two miles. We don't bring along any toys but we do make sure to have a few snacks and some water! While you're out on your adventures, add photos and rate the trails you visit on the Map of Play.
2) Invest in some loose parts toys.
Loose parts toys are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. Check out the picture below to get an idea. Instead of buying a plastic toy for the next birthday or holiday, help your child build creativity and imagination with stumps, logs, rope, crates, boxes, buckets, fabric, and the like. Children tend to prefer loose parts over fancy toys anyway.
3) Invite some friends along and watch the creativity soar.
It's certainly safer to be outside with someone else and it's more fun, too! All the different personalities and ages that are brought to the mix are good for child development.
4) Let loose.
One of my best days ever as a mom was when we came upon a shallow inland lake and let the kids swim in their clothes. You can tell by their faces that is was one of their best days, too!
5) Step back.
Spread out a picnic blanket and observe. You will be amazed and inspired. Children are so engaged with life.
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.
The weather is getting colder and, while we’ve already given a fond farewell to the lazy days of summer, that doesn’t mean the fun has to end. Winter provides endless opportunities for great, active play, both indoors and out. And, with the holiday season upon us, kids will be clamoring for new things to keep them at play.
Like last year, we’ve done our best to find products that you can bring home to make any space a great place to play. This year, though, we’ve partnered with the play experts at imagine toys to create the KaBOOM! Go Out and Play Collection, a carefully curated list of items geared to bring rich and robust experiences for the whole family.
Whatever their interests, these toys offer your children interesting and exciting ways to keep their minds and bodies moving. Best of all, these toys are also great for groups, which means more time for families to play together!
And, as a special bonus, with every purchase from the Go Out and Play Collection, you're helping to support KaBOOM! make sure that all kids get the active play they need to become healthy, successful adults. It's the holiday gift that keeps on giving!
When you're done unwrapping your gifts, here are some ideas on playful ways to repurpose the packaging.
Inhabit Design & Construction
Step-to-Play Giant Piano Mat
Sumo Bumper Bopper
Berg Moov Starter Kit
Polka Hop & Stripey Hop
Night Zone Football
Bonus Item: KaBOOM! Go Out and Play Backpack
For more winter play ideas, check out the complete Go Out and Play Collection at imagine toys.
Summer may be over, but that doesn't mean kids should stop playing. Play builds active minds as much as it builds active bodies, and by playing together, children gain social competence that is vital to their development and growth. In short, play helps to build the 21st-century skills that children will need to thrive in the workplace and to navigate our complex, ever-changing world.
These five studies illuminate just how integral play is to children's learning, achievement, and success:
How has play helped your child learn?
As a critical driver of positive educational outcomes for kids, play will be a topic of discussion with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Aspen Institute CEO, Walter Isaacson, at the inaugural Playful City USA Leaders’ Summit later this month in Baltimore. Learn more.
The lazy days of summer are winding down. A new school year awaits, full of exciting opportunities to learn, grow, and make new friends.
For many children, a new school year also means more stress. Not all stress is unhealthy—as Marian Wilde of GreatSchools.org points out, “Good stress induces a student to strive for her personal best on an exam, a term paper or on the debate team.”
Yet unfortunately, the stress levels of today’s children are rising at worrisome rates. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), typical schoolchildren today report more anxiety than did child psychiatric patients in the 1950's, and the National Association of Health Education Centers reports that 9-13 year olds say they are “more stressed by academics than any other stressor—even bullying or family problems.”
Active play is a proven stress reducer, not only helping children during times of trauma, but also to handle the stresses of everyday life. A recent study in Finland found that physical activity helps children cope with stress, with physically active children reporting “happier moods and fewer symptoms of depression than children who are less active.”
Of course, play is not just about active bodies, but also active minds. As cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman points out, imaginative play “allows the expression of both positive and negative feelings, and the modulation of affect, the ability to integrate emotion with cognition.” The social aspects of play also help kids feel more connected to their communities, reducing feelings of isolation or exclusion.
Children intuitively understand that play is not only fun, but helps them cope with stress. A boy in a KaBOOM! focus group of eight- and nine-year-olds recently noted: “Play is important because you lose some energy and become calm and make your Mom happy for the rest of the day.”
In fact, play can make Mom (and Dad) happy in more ways than one. A group of Kansas State researchers found that single mothers who play with their kids experience less stress than those who don’t. While all kids need room to direct their own course of play, family playtime can reduce stress for parents and children alike.
That’s why it’s imperative that families, schools, and communities make time to play this fall—during school, after school, and on the weekends. While stress relief for adults has become a powerful, multi-faceted industry, for children it could be as simple as a trip to the playground.
It’s summer, and the heat is on. Does your neighborhood playground look like it’s about to melt? This playground in Houston, Texas actually did:
When the temperature outside is 90-100 degrees, playground equipment and surfacing can get as hot as 130 to 150 degrees, putting kids are at risk of second-degree burns. There’s a reason that hot cities suffer from “empty playground syndrome.”
But some cities are starting to wise up, making sure to incorporate shade elements into new playground designs and adding them to existing playgrounds. Not only does shade limit UV exposure, but its cooling effect is remarkable. Ian Smith, the Director of Athletics from the Boys and Girls Club of San Fernando Valley in Pacoima, CA says, “Before [adding shade structures], the kids were not able to play on the playground during the day. Now that we have shade, the temperature of the playground area is 15-20 degrees cooler and the kids are able to play safely!”
As Ian points out, during the heat of summer, shade can make the difference between an empty playground and one that’s crawling with kids. At a shaded playground, kids will stay longer and play more often.
At KaBOOM!, we try to incorporate shade into our playgrounds when possible. Left: The VIET playground in New Orleans stays crowded all summer long. Right: Kids rejoice in the shade at the Alliance for Women and Children playground in Abilene, Texas.
Know a good shady playground in your area? Help other parents in your area by adding a photo on our Map of Play.
Know a playground that needs some shade? Don’t just wring your hands! Listen to this podcast to get some helpful hints for planning and budgeting for a shade project, plus check out these grants from the American Academy of Dermatology and the Shade Foundation of America.
Got any other tips for playing it cool at the playground?
Following his recent visit to the World Economic Forum on East Asia, our CEO and Founder Darell Hammond reflects on the global economic benefits of play:
What is the world’s most vital resource? It’s not oil. It’s not gold. It’s our children. As acclaimed economist Jeffrey D. Sachs puts it, “Investing in the health, education, and skills of children offers the highest economic returns to a country.”
The earlier we start making these investments, the better. According to UNICEF, “Early childhood represents a unique window of opportunity for investing in children’s cognitive and physical development.” While these investments should cover a wide range of needs, there is one need we often overlook: play.
We all know that play comes intuitively to children, but few of us are aware of just how vital it is to their development. Dr. Sam Wang and Dr. Sandra Aamodt, who have researched how play enhances brain development say, “the 19th-century kindergarten movement, which popularized the concept of preschool education, was based on the idea that songs, games, and other activities are a means for children to gain perceptual, cognitive, social, and emotional knowledge that prepares them for entering the world.”
We often hear about the successes of Chinese and Japanese students, who earn top science, reading, and math scores in the international PISA exam, but less discussed is their “playful and experiential… approach to schooling before second grade.” Even in later years, many students in China and Japan received short play breaks every 50 minutes.
A case study from Germany reveals just how important play is for a young child’s future success. In the 1970s, many of the country’s play-based kindergartens were transformed into “centers for cognitive achievement.” Longitudinal research comparing 50 play-based centers with 50 cognitive achievement centers found that by age ten the children who had played in kindergarten “were more advanced in reading and mathematics and they were better adjusted socially and emotionally in school. They excelled in creativity and intelligence, oral expression, and ‘industry.’”
As this research indicates, early childhood education represents a critical window for giving children access to play opportunities. It’s no coincidence that the five countries that top the chart in UNICEF’s recently released report, Child Well-Being in Rich Countries—The Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, and Germany—are all countries that make substantive investments in high-quality, play-rich daycare and preschool opportunities.
But do these investments pay off? According to Science Daily, a longitudinal study revealed that "for every $1 invested in a Chicago early childhood education program, nearly $11 is projected to return to society over the children's lifetimes."
Global studies have found that investment in early childhood development reduces crime rates and increases future wage-earning potential, thus increasing government revenue. UNICEF reports, “A simulation on increasing pre-school enrolment in 73 countries found benefits in terms of higher future wages of $6.4-$17.6 per dollar invested. The simulation indicated potential long-term benefits which range from $11 to $34 billion.”
Increasingly, our world economy depends not just on productive workers, but on creative ones. An IBM survey of more than 1,500 CEOs from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide revealed that the single most important trait, “more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision,” to successfully navigating an increasingly complex world” is creativity. In his extensive research on innovation, educator Tony Wagner “identifies a pattern—a childhood of creative play leads to deep-seated interests, which in adolescence and adulthood blossom into a deeper purpose for career and life goals. Play, passion, and purpose: these are the forces that drive young innovators.”
Around the world, play opportunities are disappearing, and countries are paying the price. Literally. Society pays the cost of remedial help, public benefits, medical care, and even incarceration. Meanwhile, we are hindering our world’s next generation of innovative thinkers and business leaders.
Most tragically of all, our children are missing out on the childhood they deserve. Depriving them is a grave moral failure—and one that we simply cannot afford.
Ready to wallow? On June 29, the World Forum Foundation is encouraging children around the world to get muddy in honor of International Mud Day. We take a moment to pay tribute to this ooey gooey carpet-staining substance.
Mud play benefits children in five crucial ways:
Of course, kids don’t need any prodding to get outside and get muddy. Share photos of your muddy kid by posting to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #mymuddykid. We’ll feature our favorites on Facebook and our blog.
In the tornado-ravaged town of Moore, Okla., all people want is for things to return to “normal.” What does “normal” mean? Adults no doubt crave the comfort of their own beds, a running refrigerator, a hot shower. But for kids, “normal” might be as simple as a chance to play.
In the wake of disaster, we must meet our children’s basic needs – food, shelter, water – but it’s not enough. For children whose lives have been turned upside-down, play is absolutely essential for maintaining a sense of stability amidst turmoil and helping them to work through emotional trauma. That’s because play is simple, familiar and joyful – all the things that adversity is not.
It’s easy to push play down the priority list, but luckily child-serving organizations around the world understand its healing power. After Hurricane Sandy, the international nonprofit Save the Children set up safe play areas in shelters “where hundreds of children can be kids again.” After the 2011 tsunami earthquake in Japan, World Vision created child-friendly play spaces because they considered “emotional support to be just as critical as physical assistance for vulnerable children who have experienced disasters.” And when it came to aiding the children affected by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Clinton Global Initiative found that play was “one of the best medicines.”
Play is a critical component to both immediate and long-term rebuilding efforts. In 2005, KaBOOM! committed to building over one hundred playgrounds in the Gulf following Hurricane Katrina. We ended up building 143 (and counting). Kathleen Koch, author of Rising from Katrina, noted that adults “were busy trying to replace physical objects--lost homes, cars, and possessions. [But] there was nothing anyone could do to recapture a lost childhood.”
At one of the Gulf sites where we built a playground – a school in Kiln, Mississippi – the principal reported:
The psychologists in our area have been doing studies on kids in the schools in our district, and they reported seeing things… like thoughts about suicide, murder and other types of violence – truly terrible things. But, they also reported that they didn’t see those things in the kids at North Central Elementary and they attribute a lot of that to the playground.
Similarly, when KaBOOM! joined forces with the town of Joplin, Missouri to build a playground there 16 months after a tornado devastated the area, Superintendent of Joplin Schools CJ Huff noted that talk of suicide decreased. "Playgrounds are a critical component to the infrastructure in any community," he said. "We also found playgrounds were really a place of reunification in the aftermath of the tornado and a meeting place for children who hadn’t seen each other since the storm."
Just a few weeks ago, we helped to rebuild Magnolia Park in the City of Long Beach, which had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Long Beach resident Ryan Spel said, “What a great experience, [it] meant a tremendous amount to me be part of rebuilding my hometown… I will never forget it.”
Back in 2006, KaBOOM! supported a playground-building effort at Plaza Towers Elementary School—one of the two schools demolished by the tornado. As we work on a long-term plan to contribute to the rebuilding efforts of Plaza Towers and the town of Moore, let’s support the organizations on the ground that are seeking resources to address the community’s immediate needs. Save the Children is coordinating a response effort for affected children and families; please support its worthy efforts by making a donation today.
It’s all too easy to forget that kids bear the stress of their families: lost jobs, lost homes, lost lives. Getting outside and having the opportunity to run, laugh, and play is essential—because all children deserve a childhood. Even when faced with trying external circumstances beyond our control, it is our responsibility to ensure that they don’t miss out.