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  • Would you send your child to a school that gives its students hammers instead of standardized tests? Brightworks, a K-12 school in San Francisco, takes experiential learning to a whole new level. As it proudly proclaims on its website: "Our students fly kites, experiment with wind tunnels, and build turbines."

    Founded by renowned tinkerer Gever Tulley, the school abides by the philosophy that tinkering and play are at the heart of learning. Student achievement is measured not by testing, but by exploration, expression, and exposition.

    See Brightworks in action:

    Would you send your child here?

     

  • Over the decades, as our vehicles have changed and evolved, one still looks more or less the same: the yellow school bus.

    What has changed, though, are the other modes of transportation that children are using to get to school. While 71 percent of adults walked or rode their bicycles to school as children, a mere 17 percent of their own children currently do so. Fifty-three percent are driven by a parent.

    That makes us sad. A car interior is a relatively sterile and isolated environment, affording few opportunities for movement, interaction, and play. A school bus, by contrast, is far more communal, while walking and biking get kids' hearts pumping, stimulating their brains in the process.

    That's why we're so excited to see these human-powered school buses, which offer the best of both worlds:

    Like our classic yellow bus, this Dutch bicycle school bus has one adult 'driver,' but unlike our buses, it's powered mostly by children. With a top speed of about 10 miles per hour, it also features an electric motor for those particularly tough hills.

     

    OK, so it's not yellow, but this bicycle built for seven allows passengers to sit in a circle as they pedal and steers like a car. In Germany, these bikes are being used as human-powered school buses, and a school district in Oregon uses them to fight childhood obesity.

     

    A walking school bus is a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. It can be as informal as two families taking turns walking their children to school, or as structured as a route with meeting points, a timetable, and a regularly rotating schedule of trained volunteers. School bus costume optional.

    Did you walk or bike to school? How do your children get to school?

     

    Top photo via bicycledesign.net. Bottom photo via Safe Routes to School.

  • As former muppet designer Gwen Gordon puts it, toddlers, neuroscientists, and Yoruban High Priestesses are "all part of a motley chorus making a serious case for the power of play."

    Of course, KaBOOM! is part of that "motley chorus," and we always like to see others taking play seriously. Like us, Gordon feels so passionately about play that she feels the need to punctuate her case with an exclamation mark. Her upcoming documentary, Seriously! The Movie, shares remarkable stories of the power of play. For instance:

    A virtually indestructible ball that helps turn refugee camps into temporary playgrounds...

    Leaders like Antanas Mockus, the two-term mayor of Bogota, Colombia who reduced traffic fatalities by 50% by hiring mimes...

    Video-game players who solved a molecular puzzle that stumped scientists for years and could point the way to crowdsourced cures for AIDS...

    Get inspired by this trailer and then join the movement of serious players by supporting the project on Kickstarter.

    Gordon's Kickstarter video is equally awesome. Check it out here.

  • What schools could look like (but usually don't)

    September 04, 2012 Kerala Taylor

    With their dreary hallways and drab facades, most schools look more like hospitals than like centers for creativity, learning, and play. How can we expect to inspire students in such uninspired surroundings?

    These amazing schools break the mold. They understand that playful environments are conducive to serious learning, whether in the classroom, hallway, or schoolyard. Let's hope more schools follow their lead!

    • Ecole Maternelle Pajol, a kindergarten in Paris, France. Photo via Palatre & Leclère.
    • Kindergarten Kekec in Ljubjana, Slovenia. Photo via Arhitektura Jure Kotnik.
    • Fuji Kindergarten in Tokyo, Japan. Photo via Domus.
    • Villiers High School in London, UK. Photo via Clara Gaggero.
    • Maria Grazia Cutuli Primary School in Herat, Afghanistan. Photo via IaN+.
    • Arreletes Day Care Centre in Els Alamús, Spain. Photo by Jordi Anguera, via Xavier Vilalta Studio.
    • ESGE Secondary School in Genolier, Switzerland. Photo via ipas.
    • Antas Education Centre in Porto, Portugal. Photo by José Campos via Arhitectural.
    • Cotham School in Bristol, UK. Photo by Jaimee Woodley, via Playscapes.

  • Should we lengthen the school day?

    September 04, 2012 Kerala Taylor

    As elementary school students in Chicago head back to school, they will have to adjust to a school day that is one hour and 15 minutes longer than it was last year. With a potential strike on the horizon, it's clear that many teachers aren't happy about the change, but will it benefit the students?

    Here's our gut reaction: More school?! No way! Kids these days already spend far too much time in scheduled activities, and the last thing they need is another hour and 15 minutes of sitting.

    But on closer examination, a longer school day just might be a good thing. According to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a shorter school day creates "false choices," forcing "teachers and principals and parents and students... to pick between social studies versus science; math versus music; reading versus recess."

    And of course, when such choices have to be made, outdoor play falls by the wayside. But with a longer school day, some Chicago public schools are now offering recess for the first time in 30 years.

    Alondra Nino, a student at Caesar Chavez Elementary School, told WBEZ radio: “For me, it’s always been a problem concentrating on work. And if it’s all work, work, work, it’s even harder. And now having an extra break, it’s actually going to be easier for me.”

    In a perfect world, play would be an integral part of all curricula, no matter how short (or long) the school day. And in a perfect world, all kids would get to play outdoors after school. But in the imperfect world we live in -- which prizes the 3 R's above all else, and which offers children fewer and fewer opportunities to play in their free time -- we fully support a longer school day, as long as it means more (or any!) outdoor play.

    What do you think? Would you support a longer school day if it meant more recess for your children?

  • Over the summer, we challenged parents across the country to visit as many playgrounds as they could—and to share photos using our Tag! mobile app. Of the 65 moms and dads who rose to the Challenge, four went above and beyond, each earning themselves a trip for two to Washington, DC!

    Our four Grand Prize Winners visited a collective total of 727 playgrounds in six weeks and took 2,713 photos! Now, a drum roll please for:

    Alex Nguyen

    Kenmore, Wa.
    Earned 163,680 points and took 700 photos

    Best part of Challenge: “It gets your family moving! Seriously,I lost 9 lbs doing the Playground Challenge, and that doing nothing special except being outside and chasing after my kids!”

    What makes a good playground: "I look for a sense of community in a playground. I like it when I bring my 4yo and 7yo to a skate park, and the teenagers let them take turns, and check themselves... I also like seeing people of all ages at the park, from older people practicing tai chi or playing chess, and answering questions from my kids, to the teen agers, to the parents of kids like myself."

    Funniest thing overheard at the playground: "I was climbing up to get a picture of my oldest. Another kid already there looked at me and in all seriousness went, 'Is this thing going to break now?' I told him no, playgrounds were made for adults, who are just big kids too. He then went on to exclaim, 'REALLY?' and was happy that I didn't break the playground."

     

    Dana Wheatley

    Calgary, A.B.
    Earned 96,550 points and took 456 photos

    Best part of Challenge: “You can do something great for your community, while having a blast with your kids and learning about your city all at the same time!”

    What makes a good playground: "I think shade is the most forgotten element that takes a good playground up to a great one. Location is also important. I think they are best when people can see that they are there and that people are playing there. And with green space around it instead of crammed by a school, parking lot and tarmac."

    Benefits of playground-going: "[My son] had been dropping his naps (he's 3) but we've been really wearing him out in the playgrounds so he's started napping most days again. I told him that when we got home it would be time for his quiet time. He yells, 'No! I want a nap!'"

     

    Annie Cheng

    San Francisco, Calif.
    Earned 78,730 points and took 833 photos

    Best part of Challenge: “You get to explore so many playground you would otherwise miss. We used to go to the same ones all the time. Now after the Challenge, we found so many fun places to go.”

    What makes a good playground: "My favorites have always been those with lots of trees, shade and trails for riding bikes. Bonus: if the playground has great view!! We have some here on top of the hill or on higher parts of the city, and it's such a pleasure to be at those playgrounds."

     

    Sara Russell

    Waterville, Me.
    Earned 70,945 points and took 724 photos

    Best part of Challenge: "IT PAYS TO PLAY! Your children will benefit from fresh air, socializing, learning about their community and exercising. You will benefit for all the same reasons + tired kids = earlier bedtimes."

    What makes a good playground: "A good playground is a playground with some seated shade, green grass and plenty of equipment to climb on. Steps, shaking bridges, and rock walls allow for some risk-taking, bravery and adventure."

     

    Inspired? The Challenge goes on this Fall. Take photos of the playgrounds you visit and be entered to win gift cards for toys, outdoor gear, ice cream and more in our biweekly sweepstakes. The more playgrounds you visit, the better chance you have to win! Download our Tag! app to join: iPhone | Android
     

  • Over the summer, we challenged parents across the country to visit as many playgrounds as they could -- and to document them on our Map of Play. Sixty-five moms and dads rose to the Challenge with gusto (and earned some cool prizes along the way)! See the impressive results below. 

    Inspired to join? The summer may be over, but the Challenge goes on! Visit our Map of Play for details. 

  • Over the past few weeks, two Ohio parents have become Internet celebrities for the 12-foot-high roller coaster they built for their kids out of PVC pipe. We are duly impressed. Though we build nearly 200 playgrounds a year, we have yet to build a roller coaster. 

    Do you know what's even more impressive? In California, a group of tweens and teens are building their own roller coaster at Gever Tulley's Tinkering School. That means they not only get to experience the thrill of the ride, but are also learning valuable construction and engineering lessons along the way.

    See more photos here.

  • Stand up (or lie down) for sidewalk chalk!

    August 20, 2012 Kerala Taylor

    This summer, sidewalk chalk has been under attack. A neighborhood HOA in Colorado tried to ban chalk art from its common spaces, and a 29-year-old mom in Richmond, Va., was sentenced for letting her four-year-old daughter draw with chalk on some park rocks.

    It's time to stand up for sidewalk chalk! On Tuesday, August 21, join Chalk the Walks, a national annual event, to spread joy through this wonderful, whimsical -- and did we mention, washable?! -- medium.

    Chalk the walks with your neighbors and friends -- and remember, sidewalk chalk isn't just for kids! Here's some inspiration to get your juices flowing:

  • The 5 C's of a great playground

    August 14, 2012 Kerala Taylor

    Our Summer Playground Challenge just drew to a close, during which over 60 parents explored local playgrounds with their kids, adding over 4,000 new photos to our Map of Play! We asked our newly minted play experts what it is that distinguishes a good playground from a great one.

    From their many thoughtful responses, we’ve culled the 5 C’s of a great playground:

    1. Creative

    Many post-and-platform playgrounds offer the same play options over and over again. A great playground offers something new.

    “I like playgrounds that offer interesting options to play on. Clambering up huge tires versus a wall or having a four person teeter-totter as opposed to two changes things up a little.” – Fezeka Saige

    2. Comfortable

    A great playground offers simple amenities that keep parents and kids playing longer.

    “Shade and water fountains are a must! Children usually want to play during the afternoon but with the sun many times it’s not possible. Clean water fountains are also extremely important since kids finish exhausted after so much play.” – Alicia Vazquez

    3. Communal

    A great playground isn’t just for kids. It’s a gathering space for an entire community, from tots to teens to grandparents.

    “I look for a sense of community in a playground. I also like seeing people of all ages... from older people practicing tai chi or playing chess and answering questions from my kids, to the teenagers, to the parents of kids like myself.” – Alex Nguyen

    4. Conspicuous

    A playground that’s hard to find risks being underutilized. A visible playground teeming with children inspires passersby to stop and play! 

    I think [playgrounds] are best when people can see that they are there and that people are playing there. – Dana Wheatley

    5. Connected

    We know that play is not limited to the playground! A great playground is connected to other play opportunities, particularly green space or other natural elements. 

    “My favorites have always been those with lots of trees… and trails for riding bikes. Bonus: if the playground has great view!! We have some here on top of the hill or on higher parts of the city, and it's such a pleasure to be at those playgrounds.”  - Annie

    Photos from to bottom: Angelika Paul, KT, torbakhopper (cc), Sasha Yetter.