Nearly every member of a community in New Mexico’s Navajo Nation came together to help build a playground not only to improve the lives of the 2,800 children who live there, but also, perhaps, to save them. The town of Thoreau, located about 100 miles west of Albuquerque in the red mesas of northwestern New Mexico, has been coping with a high suicide rate, ranging anywhere from nine to 29 per year—a big portion for a town with a population of less than 2,000.
In addition to the high suicide rate, “unemployment rates are very high, poverty is the norm, and physical isolation is a major problem,” says Trudi Griffin, the principal at St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School, a private, tuition-free Catholic school in the community. St. Bonaventure reached out to KaBOOM! for help building a place for children to play.
Studies have shown play and physical activity is essential for the overall health, well-being, and happiness of children. According to the most recent issue of the American Journal of Play, “The decline of children’s play time has led to the rise of anxiety, depression, and problems of attention and self-control.” A recent quantitative study from Insight Strategy Group, commissioned by KaBOOM!, with the support of the Mattel Children’s Foundation, reports that parents and children both see play as a way to relax and get rid of stress. And for good reason—sometimes the most important thing to remember about play is its simplest definition: play is fun.
For this struggling community, a playground seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.
To get the process started, St. Bonaventure took the initiative, filling out the application. But local parents also got involved. “Children have no place safe to play during the summer,” and “There is no place for young children to go to stay out of trouble,” parents wrote in letters to KaBOOM!. The final piece of the puzzle was put into place when Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM) stepped up to fund the playground, to “help New Mexico stay healthy,” said a rep from BCBSNM on the day the playground was built.
Together, the community, KaBOOM! and BCBSNM assembled the 2,500 square foot playspace that features more than 2,000 ways for kids ages 2–12 to engage both physically and mentally. The site features slides, swings and learning panels, and can accommodate up to 60 kids at once. Parents and other adults can stand in shade cover, sit on benches or gather at picnic tables nearby while kids play—all elements that were built alongside the playground with the help of volunteers from the community.
In June 2013, the playground was ready for action. In addition to a bright new space, the playground signifies something larger to the town. Chris Halter, Executive Director of St. Bonaventure says, “This playground means hope, it means excitement, it means blessing for all these children.”
We hope this playground brings joy to the children and the adults of Thoreau for years to come.
“Words cannot describe how grateful I am by all the work you all at KaBOOM! did for Long Beach. The new playground is fantastic and even better than before! I cannot wait for my little girl to be able to play there. In just a few more months, she'll at least be on the swing set! Again, thank you for everything. This project was definitely the best volunteering experience I have ever had." - Anthony Dalto, Long Beach, N.Y.
Hurricane Sandy struck Long Beach, N.Y., one year ago today, leaving an incredible path of destruction in its wake. Like many residents in the northeast, Long Beach residents lost their homes, their schools and their neighborhoods because of the catastrophic storm. Like many communities, Long Beach also lost one of the few places for children to play: Magnolia Playground.
As many in the northeast would also determine, Long Beach residents realized that in the aftermath of such a monumental natural disaster that play becomes even more critical because it creates a sense of normalcy and provides an emotional outlet for children during a time of extreme stress. So, in addition to many homes and schools needing to be rebuilt, children needed a place to play.
On May, 18, 2013, 242 volunteers from the Long Beach community joined with local organization Surf For All, the City of Long Beach, JetBlue and KaBOOM! to rebuild Magnolia Playground. In less than eight hours, volunteers built a child-designed playground that will serve thousands of children for years to come.
The Long Beach project marked the first of 11 playground builds to be built in 2013 directly by KaBOOM! and our partners, including BNP Paribas, Disney, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Good Neighbor Pharmacy, JetBlue and UnitedHealthcare. Even Queen Latifah pitched in to bring play to Sandy survivors.
The last of these 11 playground projects will be completed on Saturday, when more than 200 volunteers will build a brand new playground at The Community YMCA Family Health and Wellness Center, which serves hundreds of children and families affected by Hurricane Sandy in Red Bank, N.J.
These 11 playgrounds covering more than 27,000 square feet will eventually serve more than 30,000 children and will have been built by more than 2,500 volunteers donating more than 20,000 hours of service.
Additionally, KaBOOM! partnered with Creative Circle, JetBlue and UnitedHealthcare to donate Imagination Playground to four child-serving organizations in the northeast following the storm.
As tremendous as these projects are, our work is not done. There are still thousands of children in Sandy-affected areas and millions of children across North America who do not have a place to play. You can help KaBOOM! give children the childhoods they deserve by taking action to ensure that all children have access to a playground.
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.”