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.
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!
We know what they say about all work and no play. That's why at KaBOOM!, we make an effort to take some time out to recharge. After all, adults need recess too.
We recently took a field trip to The National Building Museum to experience three of its current exhibits: The Building Zone, PLAY WORK BUILD, and Detroit Disassembled. The first two exhibits helped us see the KaBOOM! ideals of play in action. Detroit Disassembled provided a stark counterpoint -- a reminder of the many places in our country where children lack access to a safe place to play.
In The Building Zone (top left), we noted that once you opened the gate, you crossed into a "land of play," moving from observing to doing. "You couldn’t fit one more child in the sandbox," one Boomer noted. "It was so full of play!" Another noted: "My group was amazed by the number of families playing together. In one case we even saw a grandmother, mother and child! I think this really speaks to the level of engagement the exhibits lend themselves to."
Moving upstairs to PLAY WORK BUILD, we noticed how the Imagination Playground blocks gave children free reign over how they played. The exhibit provided all the tools necessary to stimulate creative play for children -- and adults. Boomers noticed how the blue blocks, both small and large, "really got parents building too!"
An image from Detroit Disassembled. Photo by Andrew Moore, from the collection of Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell, courtesy of The National Building Musuem.
After so much play, it was time for reflection. The Detroit Disassembled exhibit served as a poignant reminder that play is not everywhere. We all agreed that we must continue to "come together in places where situations are difficult and let resilience and team champions shine through." We need to shift the mindset to see potential, not destruction.
During several of our interactions, Boomers noted how parents brought their kids to National Building Musuem consciously because they recognize that their kids "need time to play." Grateful to work at an organization that understands this need also extends to adults, we returned to the office reinvigorated to carry on our mission to give children everywhere the childhood they deserve.
KaBOOM! was honored to join First Lady Michelle Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and local elected officials from across the country in Philadelphia to announce public and private sector commitments to support the goals of Let’s Move!, the First Lady’s initiative to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.
In addition to committing to provide free materials, technical assistance and guidance for Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties elected officials to build or expand public playgrounds, the First Lady cut the ribbon of a new Imagination Playground™ in a Box at the event. The set was donated to the Lenfest Center by Let’s Play and KaBOOM!.
"Many of the nation’s children don’t live within walking distance of a park or recreation center,” said Secretary Sebelius. “Today, KaBOOM! is giving Philadelphia a head start on solving that problem by donating a playground. But it’s not just any playground. It’s the Imagination Playground™ in a Box that you can see just over here to my right. The moveable parts come in a box, and kids can assemble them in any setting – indoors or outdoors – to create a safe place to play. These playspaces make an immediate impact in a neighborhood."
“I want to echo the thank-you’s for our outstanding partners in this new coalition,” said Obama. “And of course, KaBOOM for supporting new playgrounds -- like the one that we're going to unveil here today -- where kids can get around and get the exercise they need to stay healthy.”
Just prior to the event a new website was launched to help elected officials meet their goals of empowering kids to eat healthy and stay active, which includes detailed information on the importance of mapping playspaces and the tools to do it, including through the KaBOOM! Playful City USA program.
The goal of Let’s Move and the vision of KaBOOM! (a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America) intersect on the playground as children who live within a half mile of a playground are five times more likely to be physically fit and engage in active, healthy play.
Photos via Seth Nenstiel (cc).
We at KaBOOM! play every day, but usually not at the White House.
On Monday, April 9, we participated in the 2012 White House Easter Egg Roll. We teamed up with the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition at the 'Eggtivity Zone,' which got kids moving on the South Lawn of the White House:
First Daughter Sasha Obama enjoyed making her way through the obstacle course we made with an Imagination Playground:
Kids were naturally curious about the Imagination Playground, made of loose parts and designed to spark creativity:
Children came out in their Sunday best for the occasion. But that didn’t stop them from playing hard and having fun!
First Lady Michelle Obama stopped by the Eggtivity Zone to cheer on the kids!
The First Family came out to play, with the Easter Bunny in tow. Approximately 35,000 people attended the annual event throughout the day:
As a Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011, KaBOOM! Founder and CEO Darell Hammond has the opportunity to participate in the World Economic Forum next week in Davos, Switzerland. It's a chance to meet business and thought leaders, but also to advocate for something that sparks true entrepreneurial thinking: unstructured play.
Hammond explains this further in a new piece for the Huffington Post:
Unstructured play gives kids the space they need to tinker and take risks -- both vital for the budding entrepreneur. Yet, too frequently these opportunities are being taken away from our kids in favor of more structured activities or time in front of a computer screen. The lack of free, child-directed play time for our kids today will have dire consequences for these future leaders, making them less prepared to solve complex challenges and problems. That is one reason why KaBOOM! has embraced the concept of the Imagination Playground™ which uses loose parts and encourages kids to use their imaginations and be creative.
You can read the full post here: "Play Today, Lead Tomorrow"
The article “Societal Values and Policies May Curtail Preschool Children’s Physical Activity in Child Care Centers,” and associated study published yesterday by the American Academy of Pediatrics, shows what we at KaBOOM! have seen happening increasingly over the years: the risk of lawsuits and increased academic competitiveness is harming our children.
In our aggressively litigious culture, we have become so obsessed with controlling risk that children are missing out on opportunities to grow and learn. There is a difference between an injury and an accident. An injury happens when equipment is in disrepair. An accident is just a natural part of growing up. Instead of accepting that a few bumps, bruises and even stitches are an inevitable part of childhood – and can actually be a healthy learning experience – we have somehow come to believe that accidents of any kind should be avoided at all costs.
Play is also under attack in our nation's schools. Shrinking recess and increased homework leave little time for play. And increasingly, cities are building new schools without playgrounds. Despite countless studies proving that play is integral to children's learning and health, most kids aren't getting enough space and time to play during the school day.
The intentions are good. We all want our kids to be safe and to have all of the opportunities available to them. Unfortunately, common sense is victim to these pressures. The key now is to take the results of this and other studies and pivot the conversation away from blame and toward a solution.
We need to create play spaces for our kids that encourage risk-taking and autonomy, allow them to be in control, and give them the time and space they need to exercise their bodies and master certain skills. That is one reason why KaBOOM! has embraced the concept of the Imagination Playground™ which uses loose parts and encourages creativity.
But even the most engaging play spaces won’t help our kids if we don’t shift our societal values to recognize the importance of play in our children’s physical, emotional and cognitive health and development. Once that happens we will automatically start to allocate appropriate financial resources for play spaces and give our kids the time they need to be kids.
When I was a growing up I had plenty of opportunities to play, (and yes, I had plenty of accidents, some of which required stitches) as did most of my peers. It took a generation for play to take a back seat and it will likely take a generation or more to correct itself. We must continue to study the issue, but more importantly, be willing to act when the facts can no longer be denied.
A couple months back we announced that Chobani Champions was supporting our SAVE PLAY campaign by granting three Imagination Playground™ in a Box™ sets to local community organizations. KaBOOM! is happy to report that the tour is over and three communities in Hartford, Conn.; Miami, Fla.; and Boston, Mass. now have innovative mobile playgrounds!
Here's a video from the gifting ceremony at the Waltham Boys & Girls Club:
NBC News today unveiled the first in a series designed to help parents get back to the basics. In this story about the importance of creative play, they talk to KaBOOM! Founder and CEO, Darell Hammond, about the power of the playground.
“Our philosophy here at The Goddard School is all about play. We believe that children learn best through spontaneous exploration of their environment. When it came time for an addition to our school we found ourselves questioning the appropriate play ground for this new space, since we already had a traditional playground in our original building.
We know that kids are attracted to colorful play structures and slides, but the stationary playground structures offer little room for imagination and creativity. We really felt that it was important to find something that would encourage the kids to run freely and to create their own games and fun.
We have been thrilled with Imagination Playground™. This amazing model contains movable parts so that children create and build their own unique playground every day, tear it down and start again the next day. Thus, the play area never looks the same from day to day.
One year later we have had the opportunity to observe what the children have created over time. We have witnessed everything from American Idol stages, to Fire Trucks, to Ice Cream stands being constructed. We also moved our Imagination Playground™ outside this past summer where the kids added water and their own loose found parts to enhance their creative play. We couldn't be more thrilled with its fabulous success here at The Goddard School located in Concord Twp, Ohio.”
– Kristina Turk, Concord Twp, OH
Kristina and the staff at the Goddard School have discovered the limitless bounds of a child’s imagination through Imagination Playground™.
Play it forward today so we can help bring Imagination Playground™ to kids across the country.