Our vision is a playground within walking distance of every child in America, but if we had our way, the same would one day be true for every child in the world. The play deficit is not a uniquely American problem.
It’s telling that in some of the most impoverished countries—where many families struggle for basic necessities, like food, water, and shelter—children still find ways to play. As Sports Without Borders puts it: “There is no childhood without play.”
Here are three inspiring recent initiatives to bring play to children in need:
Peace Corps Volunteer Greg Plimpton tells the story behind the first playground built in the town of San Luis de Canete, Peru:
“As a Peace Corps Volunteer, my first project was to survey local neighborhoods to determine local needs and possible projects. As I went from home to home, I noticed that there were often young children inside, watching television or playing games indoors, even though it was summer and the weather was absolutely gorgeous.
"I was puzzled by this and asked why. I was told there was no safe place for the children to play outside, and homes here are built side by side, with little or no yard. I collaborated with Angel Garcia, my community partner and San Luis Parks and Recreation Director, to write a grant proposal, which was approved by the Mayor and town council. Dozens of my friends contributed the $1200 donations, which the Municipality matched with land, labor, transportation and materials.
"Nearly all the materials were obtained or created locally. Used tires were donated by local tire shops and the local fire house donated rolls of used fire-hose. A last-minute addition was the shade tarp, to temper the intense summer sun of the tropics. The park is PACKED every day. The city has now applied for money from the Federal government to build two more, as well as a skate park. Seeing the smiles and laughter of the children has been one of the highlights of my Peace Corps service.”
In Zanzibar, the One World Futbol Project has partnered with the Zanzibar National Sports Council and Save the Children to distribute 20,000 virtually-indestructible balls to all the schools and youth programs on the islands of Unguja and Pemba. Says Sandra Cress on the One World Futbol blog:
"Even in the hot mid-day sun, with no water to drink and no shoes on their feet, the children play football with abandon. They play with balls that are made up of rags tied together. They play with old soccer balls that have no outside leather left, and no air in them—deflated bladders so that balls just barely roll. They play on the beaches; on the stone streets in Stonetown; on thorny, patchy fields that double as cow pastures. The goals are made up of sticks, PVC pipes, even coconut tree trunks.
"The children imitate the moves of their soccer heroes—Messi, Ronaldo, Mata, Van Persie, and other global soccer superstars. Someone calls a foul, and one child studiously paces off the 10 meters from the free kick. The 'Beautiful Game' helps these children be healthy in unhealthy circumstances. It allows them time to feel good and experience joy, to bond with teammates. Playing soccer helps them learn and follow rules of the game. It builds self-esteem and teaches them to treat each other with respect.
"Mubarak Mambud, the tireless Director of Save the Children, Zanzibar, speaks of how much more attentive and productive children are when they have time to play. Having access to a ball in school even reduces truancy and decreases behavior disruptions in school."
On February 28, a team of 20 traveled to Haiti to install a Kids Around the World (KIDS) playground at an orphanage in Saline Mayette. There are over 100 children in the orphanage and 310 children attending the school. Most of the children come to the orphanage with at least second-degree malnutrition. Using refurbished playground equipment, donated by the Chicago Ridge Park District, KIDS was able to build for $50,000 a playground that would have cost $225,000 to $250,000 in the United States. Says Julie Rearick, the NE Satellite Director of Kids Around the World:
"My favorite part of a playground build was playing with the children. As we worked on building the play structure, the children always gathered around to watch. I took jump ropes and soccer balls along so I could play with them. By the time the playground was dedicated, I already knew a number of the children. There are no words to express the emotions I felt when those children scream with glee and laughter running towards the playground. I have grown to live by this quote: 'I do for one, what I wish I could do for all.' "
In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama made the case for expanding access to high-quality preschool opportunities, arguing that “in states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children… studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own.”
We know that already, but the question lingers: What does “high-quality” mean? Does a high-quality preschool look like this?
Or like this?
Manhattan mother Nicole Imprescia would likely argue the former—in 2011, she sued her child's preschool because, in her words, "The school proved to be not a school at all, but just one big playroom." Imprescia worried that all this play was ruining her tot's chances of getting into an Ivy League college.
Meanwhile, many early childhood educators emphatically believe that preschool should be one big playroom—and don’t forget about an adjoining outdoor playspace! A recent study by Oregon State University found that the key social and behavioral skills that play develops -- such as paying attention and persisting with a task -- are better predictors of whether or not a child completes college than his or her academic abilities.
Educators like Nancy Carlsson Paige worry that policy mandates, like the Common Core state standards, are already squeezing play out of the preschool curriculum by “causing a pushdown of academic skills to 3, 4 and 5 year olds that used to be associated with first-graders through third-graders.”
A teacher in a Brooklyn kindergarten that has adopted the Common Core standards told The New York Post they are “causing a lot of anxiety.” After watching three different children break down sobbing in the course of one week, the teacher said, “Kindergarten should be happy and playful. It should be art and dancing and singing and learning how to take turns. Instead, it’s frustrating and disheartening.”
Washington Post guest columnist Deborah Kenny wonders if the problem is inherent in standards themselves or in how they are implemented. She points to one teacher who taught his kindergarteners “gravity, anatomy, speed, addition and subtraction, and measurement,” which are all included in the Common Core standards, by building a “life-size paper model of how humans would need to be designed in order to fly.”
Either way, Kenny argues that the “right curriculum for kindergarten” is, without a doubt, play. As we begin to invest more in “high-quality” early childhood education, let’s make sure that “quality” doesn’t mean filling out worksheets at a desk. We know that parents like Imprescia just want what’s best for their children. Let’s listen to the research and make sure that “quality” includes copious amounts of active, creative, sensory, and social play—in the mud and beyond.
What does a quality preschool mean to you?
On November 26, 2011, NASA launched a robotic rover, Curiosity, to explore Martian climate and geology. Since landing on Mars on August 6, 2012, the rover has been traversing the surface in search of extraterrestrial existence.
In a new development, Curiosity has discovered what is believed to be the first sign of life on Mars—a cardboard box playground. The intricate and elephant-sized structure has lead to several conclusions about life on Mars, most notably that Martian kids had powerful imaginations and loved to play, just like kids here on Earth.
Curiosity managed to gather several specimens from the cardboard boxes to help NASA’s scientists determine the chemical makeup of the complex, corrugated layers. Over the coming weeks, these scientists will perform several experiments to examine the samples. Rob Manning, Chief Engineer of the Mars Rover Project said, “When I was a kid I also built cardboard rockets.” Now, thanks to Rob’s team, the rover discovered cardboard boxes on Mars!
KaBOOM! first received word from NASA of the potential for signs of playful life on Mars early last week and quickly brought in our own panel of experts to help verify the findings.
Working closely with certified cardboard box aficionado, Caine Monroy, of Caine’s Arcade, KaBOOM! identified the photos taken by the rover. Caine raved over the Martian kids’ creativity and offered an unlimited Fun Pass to Martians of all ages. Coincidently, just one year ago almost to the day, Caine’s Arcade sent YouTube into a cardboard-filled frenzy.
Other leading play experts—6-year-old Helen and 4-year-old Jake—also consulted with KaBOOM! to determine the authenticity of the cardboard box playground. Re-creating the atmospheric conditions of Mars as well as the playground, Helen and Jake tested it for unique shapes and places to hide. After the child experts gave their stamp of approval, KaBOOM! was ready to go public with the exciting news of imaginative play on Mars.
NASA will hold a press conference tomorrow at 3:00 PM EST to reveal the initial scientific findings behind the discovery. In the interim, we’re honored to be able to share this series of exclusive photos taken from the Curiosity rover, below.
KaBOOM! hopes these images from Mars will allow filmmaker Nirvan Mullick, Director of Caine’s Arcade and Founder of Imagination Foundation, to expand the Global Cardboard Challenge across the galaxy.
“At KaBOOM! we are in the business of making the impossible possible,” says Darell Hammond, Founder and CEO of KaBOOM!. “It seems like the logical next step to take kids’ dreams to infinity and beyond!”
Update (4/2): While we do hope that one day a cardboard box playground will be discovered on Mars, yesterday’s post was a fun April Fool’s Day trick. However, we know that each and every day children travel to Mars and back with a little imagination and creativity. As evidenced by Caine’s Arcade, kids can create a whole lot with a stack of cardboard boxes. Here are some ideas to get you started and who knows, maybe you’ll end up on Mars!
Now that spring has officially sprung, it’s time to enjoy the warmer weather and longer days. Take advantage of the change in seasons with these five outdoor play ideas, and post a comment or send us a tweet to share your own.
Daylight saving time means extra time outdoors! Take a post-dinner trip to the playground and play until the sun goes down. (It’s a great way to make sure your kids get a good night’s sleep.) While you’re there, snap a photo of the setting sun and add your picture to our Map of Play.
Photo by Hari Hamartia (cc).
Don’t let the inevitable April showers deter you from going outdoors. Pull on your boots and get ready to puddle jump. Puddles make for great natural hopscotch courses—use a small rock to determine where to jump next.
Photo by joeltelling (cc).
They say April showers bring May flowers. Hit your nearest park or nature trail and challenge your kids to see how many shapes, sizes, and colors of flowers they can find. (If flowers haven’t sprouted up in your neighborhood, go on a spring scavenger hunt and look for worms, birds’ nests, and flower buds.)
Photo by cabby dave (cc).
Make a pebble your pal by transforming it into your favorite creature. For added fun, paint a dozen and “hide” them throughout your neighborhood to surprise and delight passersby. Unlike eggs, they won’t go rotten!
Photo by Avia Venfica (cc).
What do kids love more than pizza? What about growing their own pizza toppings? Spring is the perfect time to get a garden started—all you need are some seeds and a container or two. If you don’t feel like splurging on flower pots, get creative and use old books or a recycled milk jug. Download our guide to starting a pizza garden or watch this video.
Photo by Rachel Tayse (cc).
Does your family have a favorite springtime game or activity? Share your ideas in the comments section below, or send us a tweet (@kaboom).
All children deserve a childhood. But when faced with external circumstances like illness, war, natural disaster, or extreme poverty, some children risk missing out on the simple joys of running, laughing, discovering, and creating.
As our CEO and Founder Darell Hammond recently pointed out in the World Economic Forum blog: “For a child whose life has been turned upside down, play is absolutely essential for maintaining a sense of stability amid turmoil and helping to work through emotional trauma. This is because play is simple, familiar and joyful – all the things that adversity is not.”
The right to play is universal. Here are three innovative initiatives that are bringing play to children most in need:
In Deir Ezzor, Syria, citizens have set up an underground school and play area to help children cope with the stark realities of war. Before the school opened, 12-year-old Sultan Mussa told the Al Arabiya News, “I spent the whole day closed up at home because my parents were afraid of the bombing and wouldn’t let me go out.” Says principal Beda al-Hassan, “This isn't the sort of life children should have.”
The school holds classes in the evening, when it is less dangerous for children to venture outside, and though its students are unable to play outdoors, they can use the toys, ping pong table, and chess boards to reclaim their childhoods. Ten-year-old Sidra likes coming to school “because I can play here. My house was bombed and I lost all my toys.” The principal’s five-year-old son Qutaiba says, “I can't wait for school to end and for play time to begin.”
In Blantyre, Malawi, a hospital is harnessing the healing power of play by offering its patients an ambulance-turned-playground. The ambulance, repurposed by a pair of Dutch designers, sports a slide, swing, monkey bars, clubhouse area, and fireman’s pole. It is handicap-accessible so that the hospital’s wheelchair-bound patients can play alongside other patients and children from the neighborhood.
Photos via Sakaramenta.
Lastly, the P.L.A.Y. initiative, a pilot program created by UNICEF and supported by our national partner Disney, brings our portable Imagination Playground units to children living in disaster-recovery conditions and extreme poverty. Recently launched in Haiti and Bangladesh, the initiative helps kids living in challenging circumstances to reconnect with their childhood, and return a sense of normalcy to their daily lives. See Imagination Playground in action:
Whether in the United States, Syria or Haiti, kids intuitively understand the importance of play. We just need to make sure that we’re giving them the time and space to be kids.
What do babies and scientists have in common? According to Laura Schulz, an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, they both go through “a systematic process of forming hypotheses and testing them based on observed evidence.”
Though child’s play is naturally compatible with scientific exploration, the United States is failing to nurture its little scientists. We rank 23rd in science among developed countries, diminishing our ability to compete in the global marketplace.
We obsess over test scores, but we should really be encouraging more students like Lauren Rojas (pictured above), a seventh grader in Antioch, Calif., who set out to test the effects of altitude on air pressure and temperature for her science fair project. And what better way to do that than to launch a homemade “rocket” into space using a do-it-yourself balloon kit?
Lauren added her own creative touches to the balloon, fashioning a shiny rocket structure that included a Hello Kitty pilot. "I liked her ever since I was 6 years old," Lauren told the New York Daily News. "My love for Hello Kitty has never gone away and I thought it would be really fun to add a toy inside the rocket." The doll got quite a ride, reaching an altitude of nearly 18 miles. As the balloon expanded to 53 times larger than its original size at takeoff, it eventually burst open, landing in a tree 47.5 miles from the launch sight.
You can watch the journey here:
Lauren was named one of four top award winners at her science fair and will go on to compete in a regional competition. While she learned an unforgettable science lesson on altitude, air pressure, and temperature, we stand to learn a valuable lesson too. Child’s play is not a ‘frivolous’ activity that distracts from ‘weighty’ subjects like science and math. Rather, it is a core component that we must nurture from pre-K to high school—and beyond.
Photo via Contra Costa Times.
Are you getting ready for National Peanut Butter & Jelly Day? What about No Socks Day? There are all sorts of random holidays, but this week we celebrate a different kind of random—Random Acts of Kindness Week.
Here at KaBOOM!, we know all about the joys of spontaneous play. Whether you want to call them playful acts of kindness or random acts of play, here are seven ways to make friends and strangers smile, this week and beyond:
At Stratford Landing Elementary School in Fairfax, Va., a nearly new playground sits wrapped in caution tape. It represents a struggle between a PTA, which raised $35,000 from silent auctions and bake sales to purchase and install the playground equipment, and school officials, who have deemed the play equipment too dangerous and are ordering its removal.
‘Too dangerous’ means that the equipment doesn’t meet the school district’s established safety standards. Though parents may be tempted to vilify the Fairfax County Public School administrators—who are offering the school $135,000 to replace the equipment—the administrators are hardly to blame for following their own protocol. Instead of pointing fingers, let’s shift the conversation. Instead of advocating for exceptions to the rule, let’s reexamine the rules.
The reams of caution tape at Stratford Landing serve as a potent symbol of a generation of kids who are missing out on vital opportunities to push and challenge themselves. Says eight-year-old Kes Shallbetter of the play equipment she barely got to play on: “I was upset because it was fun… It was exciting to have a new piece at the playground because the old pieces I got so bored at.”
It’s a shame that $35,000 of hard-earned PTA money may go to waste, but the much larger shame is that even with a $135,000 investment from the county, Kes may once again find herself bored during recess. And she isn’t the only one. Our playgrounds are failing to engage our country’s eight-, nine-, and ten-year-olds, pushing them to the sidelines at a time in their lives when they should be pushing themselves to climb higher.
A playground that challenges children not only keeps them active for longer, but it also motivates them to think creatively when they encounter obstacles and experiment with potential solutions. In other words, it prepares them to be healthy, innovative, successful adults who can navigate an increasingly complex and connected world.
The real question here is not: How can we save the equipment at Stratford Landing? The real question is: How can we save our children’s childhoods and futures—in Fairfax and beyond?
UPDATE: Though we must continue to ask ourselves how we can ensure that children across the country have access to challenging play equipment, we are happy to report that according to The Washington Post, "A dispute over a Fairfax County elementary school playground structure has been resolved after a school district official announced Wednesday that the equipment would no longer be off-limits to students."
Children flocked to the new playground equipment before it was slated for removal and wrapped in caution tape. Photos courtesy of the Stratford Landing PTA, via The Patch.
Some say play is frivolous. Jill Mays, an occupational therapist, knows perhaps better than anyone why—and how—play is absolutely critical to children's learning, development, and emotional well-being. We think one of her former patients would agree. Read on:
I first met Jack when he was in preschool and worked with him for several years. A chubby blonde who was happiest curled up on the couch and browsing books about lighthouses, Jack had trouble with everyday activities, like getting dressed. When there was a lot of noise or activity, he became easily overwhelmed and would shut down almost entirely, unable to say or do anything.
Jack had sensory processing disorder and a learning disability. ‘Sensory processing’ refers to our ability to determine what sensory information to pay attention to and then how to handle and react to it. For most people, this process takes place on a largely unconscious level and in milliseconds. Our brains are amazing things!
Movement is critical for activating this system, but with low core strength and poor coordination, Jack fatigued quickly. Our work initially focused on strengthening and building his endurance. As Jack moved into first grade, the emphasis shifted to coordinating his body movements. By the middle of first grade, he reached a tipping point when he learned to “pump” on a swing. At recess, Jack would charge out to the playground, making sure he reached the swings before his classmates. His teacher had never seen him run before. Jack spent the entire recess swinging.
His motor abilities grew exponentially from that point on. Not only that, his teacher noted that his recess swing sessions helped him focus better in the classroom and improved his learning. Many years later, I read in the local newspaper that Jack was on the high school varsity football team! From the day I met him, he had progressed from a lone couch potato to a lone swing enthusiast to a team player in a physically demanding sport—a moving testament to the power of play.
This story is adapted from an excerpt in Your Child’s Motor Development Story by Jill H. Mays. See Jill's other guest post, In the wake of tragedy, six tips for coping through play.
In the United States, a wooden playground is a rare sight to behold. Though kids are naturally drawn to the textured surface and natural feel of wood, safety and maintenance concerns have drawn us toward the bright (some might say garish) allure of plastic.
Not so in Berlin, Germany, where wood dominates many playgrounds. Part-time resident Judith Markoff Hansen was kind enough to share some of the wonderful photos she's snapped while wandering through neighborhoods, mostly in the "old East." Judith says of the city's neighborhood parks:
"All elements of the new Berlin come together here. Young families are flocking to some of the gentrifying old eastern areas and new friendships between parents are being formed. Playgrounds initiate that...and a sense of community."
Of course, friendships and communities are forged on wooden and plastic playgrounds alike. Still, it's hard to look at these photos and not feel a tug of nostalgia. Wood may have its disadvantages, but when it comes to play equipment, its warmth and whimsy remain unmatched.
Photos are by Judith Markoff Hansen, unless otherwise noted.
This isn't the first time we've blogged about Berlin. See other awesome playgrounds in the city.