The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (GRCM) celebrates childhood and the joy of learning by providing an interactive, hands-on environment that inspires learning and encourages self-directed exploration. In the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., a Playful City USA community, the GRCM has celebrated 16 years of play with over 2 million guests. Enjoy this guest blog post from the GRCM.
Play is an essential part of life—specifically unguided, open-ended, free play. The kind of play that has no right or wrong answer: creativity and imagination without a specific end product. In other words, play for play’s sake.
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (GRCM), located in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., is committed to play and part of that commitment is giving our guests, adults as well as children, permission to play.
Perhaps nothing demonstrates this idea more than the museum’s most unique exhibit: our staff.
Our floor staff, or Facilitators do not direct play; they do not give specific instructions, but invite our guests, adult and child alike, to play with them. They facilitate play by asking open-ended questions (“What are you making?”), engaging in parallel play (playing along-side or near a child in a similar activity, but not directly with the child until they invite the staff member to join), or by simply asking if they can help with what the child is creating. This not only leads to very unique creations but also demonstrates some simple ways to continue playing at home.
When the GRCM celebrated our 15th anniversary last year, we were fortunate to be able to share a new exhibit, Imagination Playground™, with the community. No other exhibit illustrates the concept of open-ended play as well as Imagination Playground™. It’s a wonderful catalyst for collaboration. Parents and teachers immerse themselves in the creative experience with the children (and our staff).
We often joke that our Facilitators have enjoyed Imagination Playground™ even more than our guests. Nearly every day, the office receives a call inviting the administrative team to come and see a new creation—a fort, a throne, a robot, a boat or two-story ball run—that the Facilitators and guests have made together. More recently, we were able to borrow a Rigamajig (formerly Workyard Kit), which is very similar to a large Erector Set, and were happy to see some even more elaborate creations.
While we continue to provide a number of experiences and exhibits that would be difficult to replicate at home, one thing we do try to impart on our guests is how easy it is to play. In February 2013, GRCM launched a “What Can You Do With a Spoon?” campaign (see video below) to get people thinking about ways to play, even with items that normally wouldn’t be thought of as toys, and demonstrate how easy it can be to include some play every day.
The enthusiasm and imagination of our staff inspires play. It invites museum guests of all ages to join in the fun, letting them share in the joy of making a giant bubble, the excitement of showing off a Lego airplane, the thrill of putting on a fire-fighter helmet and piloting a helicopter. But we strive for more than having fun while visiting the museum. We hope that their experience here carries over into their play at home and that they allow the kids in their lives to guide the activity. That they remember to ask open-ended questions like “What are you building?” “What are drawing?” We hope that our guests take with them the idea that play really is for everyone and that everyone, regardless of age, should take time every day to enjoy some play. You have our permission.
For the first time, municipal and thought leaders from around the country gathered to chart a path to make sure that all kids get the play they need to thrive. Representatives from 53 cities, 30 states, and three countries came together at the inaugural Playful City USA Leaders' Summit, hosted by KaBOOM! and sponsored by the Humana Foundation, to declare loud and clear that they value play. The nearly 200 participants rolled up their sleeves and spent an intense two days on an issue that—thanks to the efforts of many at the summit—is gaining increasing attention.
Participants engaged with an impressive list of speakers and presenters, including Secretaries Kathleen Sebelius and Arne Duncan, journalist Cokie Roberts, Walter Isaacson, author of the best-selling biography Steve Jobs, and 12 mayors, about how play contributes to positive outcomes for children and communities. From building 21st century workforce skills, to reversing the trend in childhood obesity rates, to renewing urban areas, investing in play is an investment in our future.
"Cities are critical when it comes to achieving play-related outcomes because most play-focused infrastructure investment, policies, and programming happen at the local level," said Darell Hammond, Founder and CEO of KaBOOM!. "That's why KaBOOM! created the Playful City USA program in 2007 to recognize municipalities who are prioritizing play. It was great to have many of our Playful City USA communities at our inaugural summit."
"At Humana, we believe in making fun things healthy and healthy things fun. The Humana Foundation is proud to be the official sponsor of the KaBOOM! Playful City USA Leaders' Summit, working hand in hand with those on the front lines of our nation' cities to create safe places for people of all ages to live and play together," said Virginia Kelly Judd, Executive Director, Humana Foundation.
In closing remarks, best-selling author Wes Moore aptly said, "This is about more than playgrounds, monkey bars, and trampolines. It's about our children." The audience rose in thunderous applause and we couldn't agree more. The summit made clear that there is a growing movement to give all children the childhood they deserve by ensuring they get the active play they need to thrive.
In an event fit for a queen, 229 volunteers from Dr Pepper Snapple Group, AmeriCorps and the local community near Seaside Heights, N.J., rallied together to build a brand new playground across the street from Hugh J. Boyd Elementary on August 27.
However, this was no typical playground build. The volunteers and 167 children present for the playground build were joined by royalty: Queen Latifah!
A New Jersey native, Queen Latifah knew first-hand about the devastating effects of Superstorm Sandy on Seaside Heights. Boyd Elementary was severely damaged by the storm and its playground was rendered useless, leaving children in Seaside Heights without a playground.
All kids need a balance of all kinds of active play every day to thrive. That becomes even more important after a traumatic event like Superstorm Sandy, because play helps kids process their emotions and gives them a sense of normalcy amidst the chaos. "We know how critical it is that kids are very active. It's critical to their development," said Queen Latifah.
Committed to ensuring that children have a great place to play, Queen Latifah partnered with Dr Pepper Snapple Group and KaBOOM! to build a new playground for children in Seaside Heights, bringing along her show’s crew to document the build day.
The segment about the Seaside Heights project aired on the Queen Latifah Show on October 15.
The kids were thrilled when Queen Latifiah surprised them with an army of more than 200 volunteers ready to build them a new playground. Queen Latifah herself jumped right in to help, assembling playground equipment. Emotions were high as this incredibly resilient community united to bring the gift of play to its children.
The Seaside Heights project was part of the Let’s Play initiative—a community partnership led by Dr Pepper Snapple Group to get kids and families active nationwide. In 2011, Dr Pepper Snapple Group made a $15 million, three-year commitment to KaBOOM! to build or fix up 2,000 playgrounds, benefiting an estimated five million children across North America.
Dr Pepper Snapple Group and KaBOOM! will continue to help this seaside town rebuild with another playground project on October 23, just before the one year anniversary of SuperStorm Sandy.
Interested in having a KaBOOM! playground in your neighborhood? See what it takes to become a Community Partner.
With the school year now in full swing, don't forget to let your kids play. Yes, play.
Research shows the more active kids are, the better they do in school. Not only does being active help kids burn off pent-up energy and focus better, it can also increase blood flow to the brain, which helps with memory and concentration—and let's not forget that exercise and playtime is great for their mood and self-esteem.
"No problem, my kid's on the soccer team," you say? That's great—just leave time for unstructured free play, too. Studies also show that, interestingly, children can get more exercise and enjoyment when engaged in non-competitive physical activities due to not being on the sidelines and other factors.
So help your kids balance "Study Hard" with "Play Hard." Here are quick tips to keep fun in the equation during the school year:
If you live in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, one way for your kids to enjoy play time is to sign up your family and come out to play with KaBOOM! on October 5 at the inaugural Race for Every Child fundraiser to benefit Children's National Medical Center. Children's National, ranked consistently as one of the nation's top pediatric hospitals, serves more than 270,000 children a year from the region and across the country (and around the world), regardless of their families' ability to pay.
The race will feature a 5k run/walk and a Kids' Dash that start at Freedom Plaza, which also will be a giant play area that includes a KaBOOM! playground, great activities with FitKids, Superheroes of Southern Maryland and much more. Note you must register by October 3 at RaceForEveryChild.org, there will not be arrangements for walk-up participation. ABC Family's "Pretty Little Liars" star Ian Harding, a Maryland native, is heading up a fundraising team that you can support as well, and will be at the event awards ceremony. The top D.C.-area-based fundraiser on his team will get to meet him in person there.
If you don't live in the DC-MD-VA area, but want to support the cause, you can race "virtually" and donate at the same website, RaceForEveryChild.org.
Kids should have time to play - at home and at school. We know that creative play can make kids happier and healthier, but some kids are not getting enough of it. That’s why we’re teaming up with Children’s Claritin® to make our schools more playful!
Children’s Claritin® and KaBOOM! have launched a national program to bring Imagination Playground™ to four schools in need. Imagination Playground™ is an amazing mobile block-based play system that engages children’s minds, bodies, and spirits through active, creative play. By interconnecting the components, children are able to build and rebuild their play spaces with each visit. Imagination Playground™ engages kids in creative play that is physically challenging and collaborative.
Twelve schools in Arizona, California, DC, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington are in the running—you can help us determine which four schools will receive an Imagination Playground™! Just visit Children’s Claritin®’s Facebook page and vote once per day for the school of your choice. Voting runs through October 31, 2013.
See Imagination Playground™ in action and vote now!
This Saturday, Sept. 28, be sure to tune into PBS to catch American Graduate Day 2013, a seven-hour live broadcast and outreach event. This “call-to-action” telethon will profile more than 20 national Community Partners, including KaBOOM!. Celebrity hosts such as Juju Chang, Brian Williams, Susie Gharib, Rebecca Jarvis and other journalistic luminaries will serve as anchors throughout the broadcast.
“American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen” is a national public media initiative that leverages the power and reach of public television to help communities across America address the high school dropout crisis. KaBOOM! is excited to see that play is being recognized as a critical component of a student's academic achievement and long-term success.
Our participants will be Dr. C.J. Huff, Superintendent of Joplin Schools, and CJ August, Special Education Instructor for the Beacon School. Joplin, Mo. was devastated by a tornado in May of 2011, which destroyed several schools in the area. Dr. Huff led the school district, and the community at large, in rebuilding efforts, pinpointing play opportunities for children as a critically important issue in the aftermath of the tornado.
In August of 2012, KaBOOM! partnered with Joplin Public Schools and the Kansas City Chiefs to build a playground at its Beacon School, which serves special needs children and didn’t previously have a playground. Dr. Huff and Mr. August will be appearing on the show to speak about how the community came together to build the playground in one day (pictured above), and the difference the playground has made for the children at Beacon School -- academically, socially, and emotionally.
Don't miss this informative and inspiring national event! Check your local public television listings or watch the livestream starting at noon EST at americangraduate.org.
The 2013 Playful City USA Leaders’ Summit: Investing in Children Through Play, sponsored by the Humana Foundation, is coming up on Sept. 23!
This invitation-only summit will bring together city, non-profit, foundation, business and national thought leaders from across the country to advance our collective efforts to ensure that all children get the play that they need to become healthy and successful adults. As the national platform for making play a priority in our communities, summit attendees will be inspired and challenged by preeminent leaders and will build strong networks with peers from across the country that enable cities to be transformed through play.
The summit will feature 11 Team Cities from across the country. The representatives from the Team Cities are doing some of the most innovative work to advance the cause of play in their communities. These communities take unique approaches to engaging partners to implement play agendas that give kids the childhood they deserve. Click here to learn more about our Team Cities.
Speakers include The Honorable Arne Duncan; The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius; Wes Moore, Host of Beyond Belief; and many more. Click here for a complete list of speakers.
Track and join the conversation at #playsummit.
Fifteen years ago, California resident Jim Roberts had no idea that he would be crowned Napa Valley’s ‘Playground King.’ “I had an office supply store for 35 years,” he says. “What do I know about playgrounds?”
Jim had retired from his business and was volunteering as an academic mentor at a school in a low-income neighborhood. One day, he stopped by the principal’s office and found her terribly upset. A student had just fallen off a piece of equipment on the school playground and suffered a concussion.
“We went out to look at the playground,” Jim says, “and I saw a cement curb only two feet away from the equipment. I could tell this wasn’t safe. I said, this has got to be replaced, this is terrible.”
The principal happened to have a catalog from the playground equipment company Landscape Structures in her filing cabinet. They began poring over the catalog and Jim soon enlisted the help of Landscape Structures to come up with a plan. When Jim took the plan to the school’s Board of Directors, they proposed that he and his local Kiwanis club build the playground.
Jim says, “We dug in, and we got that playground down. It was sprinkling the whole time, but we didn’t care. A part was missing and we had to race out and get it, but we got the playground together and saved the school a lot of money.”
Jim was in his early 70s then. Now, at age 86, he has 58 playground builds under his belt, with three more in the works. “The Kiwanis club here is just incredible,” Jim says, “they just roll up their sleeves and chip in. On five different occasions, we’ve built two playgrounds in the same weekend. We’ve even had members join the club just because they wanted to help build playgrounds.”
Most of these playground builds have taken place at Napa Valley schools. Jim believes that playgrounds are a vital asset to a school community. “The kids just can’t sit there and study all the time, they wouldn’t hear anything after a while, they’d just turn off,” he says. “It’s important for them to get out and get fresh air, and have a challenging, fun, colorful playground. When they get out of class, they RACE, they RACE to that playground.”
It’s important for Jim that the playgrounds offer elements of challenge so children can learn and push themselves both inside and outside the classroom. Thinking back to his own childhood, Jim says, “I learned nothing on the playground. When I went to school, all we had was a turning bar. I remember digging holes in the ground and playing marbles. I want to provide for these kids what I didn’t have.”
He continues to be amazed by the challenges that children will rise to when given the opportunity. “Like overhead bars, for instance,” he says. “My daughter was a principal, and she said, I want this for the kindergarten, and it was an overhead structure. I thought the kids were too small, but we put in the structure, and now these tiny little kids are going hand over hand, whipping across the thing!”
Of course, children need a safe place to play both inside and outside of school. Luckily, the schools in Napa Valley keep their playgrounds open to the surrounding community outside of school hours. “When the school builds a playground, that’s recreation for the whole neighborhood,” Jim says. “I pass by some of the playgrounds on a Saturday, and all kinds of kids are there with their parents doing this or that.”
A recipient of multiple Let’s Play Completion Grants from KaBOOM!, Jim acknowledges that the hardest part of building a playground is coming up with the funds. Beyond that, all it takes is a can-do spirit and a hardworking group of volunteers. The community build model that Jim has helped to popularize across the Napa Valley has not only saved the county over a million dollars—which they have used to invest in other park projects—but has helped the community feel more invested in the end product.
As Jim can attest, the “end product” is not just a collection of colorful equipment. “It’s a hub for the whole neighborhood,” he says. “A magnet for kids, doing something safe, good, and healthy; learning and challenging themselves; and most importantly, having fun.”
Somewhere along the way, Mom Sarah Hirsch realized that kids’ birthday parties had become less about kids playing musical chairs and more about getting lots of elaborate presents.
When her son Harry turned one, he ended up opening one present every day, just so it wouldn’t overwhelm him. “We were amazed that he got so much stuff,” Sarah says. “It was so generous of our friends and family but also a little embarrassing to receive so many gifts for a one-year-old who was too little to care about presents.”
During the following year, Sarah realized just how much her son was learning by playing at the area playgrounds. He was growing stronger, his language improved, and he was more aware of the world around him. When it came time to plan his second birthday, she had a new idea.
“I wanted to share our good fortune with others and thought, ‘Instead of having people bring a present, why not ask them to give a donation?’”
She chose KaBOOM! because, as she says, “Everything Harry learns comes from play. What better organization to ask people to donate to than one that revolves all around the importance of play and bringing play to kids? I thought it was a perfect fit for us.”
Sure, Harry still received presents, but Sarah gave guests an option to make a charitable contribution, which resulted in more than $500 donated in Harry’s name.
As the year continued and Harry was invited to other kids’ parties, Sarah continued the charitable trend. Her favorite gift is a $15 contribution to KaBOOM! and a copy of the KaBOOM! outdoor game guide, Go Out and Play!. “People are really flattered that we made a donation in their child’s name,” Sarah says.
Harry recently turned three, and Sarah knew how she was going to make his Sesame Street party even more special. “It was a no-brainer that we would do a KaBOOM! party again. Last year was really just the beginning of something that has become a cause in our family. We’re passionate about the importance of play and KaBOOM! is near and dear to our hearts.”
Donations for Harry’s birthday totaled more than $600 this year. Sarah has gotten nothing but compliments from other parents for how she’s “cutting down on the excess” that comes with birthday parties. “I think as Harry begins to understand more about the world, he’ll be really proud of this, too.”
By some measures Share Our Strength and KaBOOM! were successful US nonprofits—growing rapidly, engaging numerous partners, and improving the lives of tens of millions of children. Yet all the while, the problems we were tackling—hunger and the lack of opportunities to play—were getting worse and even accelerating in recent years as the economy took a downturn. More than 16 million children in America now live in poverty, up from 11.6 million in 2000. We have witnessed how children who play on KaBOOM! playgrounds benefit physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally, but we face the fact that one in three children is obese or overweight, and one in five suffers from a mental illness, with rates of depression higher than ever before. And the list goes on.
KaBOOM! and Share Our Strength realized that to make significant progress we had to move beyond simple solutions to complex problems, and we had to answer anew, in a much bolder way, the most critical question of all: “What does success look like?” Though it may seem counterintuitive for a non-profit sector already struggling to support, sustain, and scale up its impact—our approach calls for nonprofits to embrace a much heavier lift. We must look beyond short-term achievements that please funders, staff, and stakeholders but yield only incremental change, and instead hold ourselves accountable for the harder-to-achieve long-term outcomes that will ultimately solve social problems.
That is why KaBOOM! is committed to ensuring all children get the balance of active play they need to become healthy and successful adults. Together, we can give all kids the childhood they deserve.