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.
The holiday season is upon us, and that means the rush to find the perfect gifts can cause parents to automatically gravitate towards the latest high-tech games and gizmos. With news outlets listing off the "hottest new toys" of the year, many forget just how much fun kids can have with the most basic of playthings.
In his latest Huffington Post piece, KaBOOM! CEO Darell Hammond provides some examples of traditional toys that can be both entertaining and educational:
A simple box of sidewalk chalk will bring out your child's inner artist and may also be used to draw those old-fashioned games like hopscotch, four-square and Tic Tac Toe. Small or large, bouncy balls can be thrown, kicked, hit with a stick, and, yes, bounced. Jump ropes, marbles, and soap bubbles all provide hours of entertainment.
Want your child to have the latest educational toy? Fear not. Even the Silicon Valley's high tech elite know that low tech is the smart choice.
Read the full post here.
As the first Imagination Playground Park opens this week at Burling Slip in the South Street Seaport area of New York City, our CEO Darell Hammond reflects on the decline of creativity and the lack of imagination in today's playscapes. In his Huffington Post blog, he asserts that while kids can find a way to play creatively with just about everything, we adults are failing to provide them with stimulating, challenging, inspiring play environments.
Whether on a beach, in a backyard, or at an Imagination Playground Park, kids need environments that lend themselves to unstructured, child-directed play. Darell says:
Remember when a cardboard box used to inspire hours of imaginative play? It's a doghouse; no, it's a drum; no, it's a secret fort! A cardboard box comes with no instructions. It doesn't require batteries. It doesn't talk to you when you shake it or pull a string. And yet, children are drawn toward boxes, just as they are drawn toward bottles, or rubber bands, or Styrofoam peanuts.
He describes the first Imagination Playground Park, which includes a sandpit, cascading water channel, rope climbing structure, and loose parts--such as burlap bags, buckets, shovels, brooms, carts and fabric.
Do you get to play at work? If not, here's an argument to make to your boss, courtesy of KaBOOM! CEO, Darell Hammond. In his Huffington Post blog, he contends that setting aside "play time" for employees boosts creativity, productivity and morale.
In his words,
KaBOOM! employees report returning from "play time" feeling refreshed, invigorated and more productive—just as kids feel after recess, research suggests. They also say that play helps to deepen their sense of connection to their coworkers and increases workplace cohesion by temporarily flattening hierarchies.
In fact, in our increasingly work-oriented culture, opportunities for play are eroding for adults just as they are for children. But we don't have to think of "work" and "play" as mutually exclusive—read the full post to learn more.
"If we don't let our children play, who will be the next Steve Jobs?" Last year our CEO & Founder Darell Hammond posed this question in his Huffington Post blog. Judging from the nearly 25,000 readers who shared the post via social media, clearly some other folks are wondering, too.
Well, we just may have found him. Audri, the seven-year-old featured in this video, has built his very own "Monster Trap," similar in concept to the mouse trap in the popular board game of the same name -- except way cooler.
As Dr. Alison Gopnik aptly noted in a recent presentation at our annual Play Academy, "The point of play is not getting the right answers, it's getting all the wrong answers." Audri seems to intuitively understand this, remarking of his contraption: "I think it will have 10 to 20 failures and two successes. That's my hypothesis."
See if Audri's hypothesis proved correct:
In an era of constant stimulation, boredom has become our children's worst enemy. A long car ride without the distraction of a screen is unfathomable. Unscheduled summer days are few and far between. Schools fight boredom with hours of homework and after-school sports; meanwhile, parents wage their own war by arming their homes with electronic stimuli.
But is boredom really a bad thing?
Scott Adams, creator of "Dilbert," doesn't seem to think so. In his recent Wall Street Journal article, he argues:
"Experts say our brains need boredom so we can process thoughts and be creative. I think they're right. I've noticed that my best ideas always bubble up when the outside world fails in its primary job of frightening, wounding or entertaining me."
Bestselling author Mitch Albom agrees. Lamenting our children's increasingly busy summers, he calls on parents to "lighten it up."
"Sometimes doing nothing is doing something. Sure, camp can be fun, and travel ball is exciting, but if we cram in activities from the last day of school to the first, we’re ignoring an important fact: The way kids work during the academic year—honestly, you’d think homework was a full-time job—a mental break may be needed. These are young minds, young bodies. Replenishing the juices by kicking back is not a bad idea. And if not in childhood, then when?"
Our own CEO and Founder Darell Hammond echoes Adams' and Albom's sentiments in his Huffington Post piece, "In Defense of Boredom":
"Adults are cramming as much as they can into their children's days under the misguided notion that boredom is a bad thing. Then, in the precious hours of free time they have, kids turn to TV, computers, and video games to keep themselves entertained. The result? A generation of kids who are adept at following rules -- whether in a classroom, on the soccer field, or on their PlayStation -- but who are at a complete loss when it comes to innovating, designing, tinkering, or doing anything that requires drawing from their own imaginations."
Has our over-stimulated, over-scheduled culture created a generation of children who don't know how to be bored? What can parents do to help their children learn the joys of boredom?
Today, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta interviewed our CEO and Founder Darell Hammond about his life, his work, and the growing movement to Save Play. The piece includes a brief tour of our KaBOOM! headquarters in Washington, DC; clips from previous playground builds; and snapshots of Darell from his early years growing up in Mooseheart, a group home outside of Chicago.
Watch the piece here and use our sharing tools to spread the word about the movement to Save Play to your family and friends!
Summer used to symbolize freedom and fresh air, but for more and more children -- particularly poor children -- it's become synonymous with boredom and inactivity. A slew of studies and reports shows us that poor children suffer disproportionately from "summer learning loss" and are more likely to spend their summers in front of screens.
Many educators have proposed year-round school as the answer, but is it? Our CEO and Founder Darell Hammond asserts in the Huffington Post that the lack of free play -- particularly coupled with a lack of strong community -- is a problem that extends far beyond summer vacation, and into our school system as well. He says:
As I see it, the debate between summer vacation vs. year-round school glosses over the most important questions. Namely, how can we bring play back to our nation's schools? How can we strengthen our communities and improve our neighborhoods -- particularly in low-income areas -- so that parents feel comfortable letting their children outside? What can we do to save public programs and facilities that provide play opportunities to our kids?
Read the rest on the Huffington Post.
Exciting news -- KaBOOM! was featured on the Today Show this morning! Reported by Jenna Bush Hager, the segment profiled our 2,000 playground builds and our CEO and Founder Darell Hammond's bestselling book, KaBOOM!: How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play.
Jenna Bush Hager and a film crew visited a KaBOOM! playground in Philadelphia and spoke to KaBOOM! alumnus Imanni Wilkes. The crew then traveled to Mooseheart, the group home where Darell lived from age four to 18, and captured Darell talking to the kids who are current residents of the "child city."
The crew also visited Lawrence, Mass. on June 9, 2011 to see a KaBOOM! playground build in action.
The Today Show producer says the segment is one of their best and brought tears of joy to production staff and editors. Watch it now!
In the days of yesteryear, parents used to tell their kids, "Go outside and play." And when kids went outside, a miraculous thing happened -- they found other kids to play with.
Sadly, fewer and fewer parents now utter those magical four words, and those kids who are sent outdoors have a hard time finding playmates. Where is everyone? Well, probably at sports practice or on the couch glued to the TV.
The unfortunate truth is that recreating a culture of communal outdoor play is going to require some legwork for modern parents. The good news is that it can be done, whether you're a stay-at-home parent or have a full-time job. In his latest Huffington Post piece, our CEO Darell Hammond shares six creative, community-oriented ideas for a summer filled with unstructured outdoor play. This isn't just about getting your kids outside, but your entire neighborhood!
Read the full post here.