Across the United States, cities are competing in a relentless race to not only attract but also retain businesses, economic development and jobs. For cities to thrive, they first need to ensure that all residents of any and every social class-- from young millenials to growing families-- are happy, healthy and contributing to their community's overall vitality.
How can cities cultivate a competitive advantage today to build a sustainable future for tomorrow? As urban leaders explore ways to enhance accessibility for its residents and businesses, some cities are turning to play to build that advantage by reviving a commitment to public recreation and redefining it with the idea of playability.
A recent GOVERNING blog post by Ron Littlefield, former Chattanooga mayor and current lead analyst on the City Accelerator Initiative, touches on this topic and discusses how cities compete to find new ways to offer recreational opportunities. Littlefield shines a light on the city of San Antonio to exemplify innovative ways cities are reimagining public spaces and programs beyond the traditional sense and promoting leisure and play everywhere. San Antonio was also named among the 212 cities honored as a Playful City USA community for its work in prioritizing play and making the city more playable for kids, families and people of all ages.
During a keynote address at the 2013 Lifelong Health, Fitness and Learning through Play Conference at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Dr. Joe Frost described the city as an "inter-generational play mecca" filled with parks, fair grounds, trails, playgrounds, gardens and museums that kids, families and players of any age can enjoy.
"Here, children have access to a petting zoo, vegetable gardens, playground equipment, seashore with sand, rocks, and flowing water, indoor play areas with glass walls for viewing animals, petting zoo, and a walk-through cave with fish cavorting in huge aquariums. Nearby Sea World adds to this remarkable mix, and all this is enhanced by playgrounds created by KaBOOM! and San Antonio families."
Dr. Ruth Moore, professor at the Dreeben School of Education at the University of the Incarnate Word adds how San Antonio's cultural organizations show their commitment to play:
"At the city's one-hundred-year-old zoo, trained play leaders are always on duty throughout the Nature Spot, a beautifully planned nature area for young children. In addition, the Nature Spot's leadership annually joins hands with the University of the Incarnate Word's School of Education and others in the community to provide play days on site, thus extending more large play events to all."
Cities and towns, along with leaders from every sector working together, have the opportunity to turn play spaces, and all spaces, into transformative theaters of activity, inspiration, and discovery. Now is the time to take action to build the city environment where you and your family can live, work, play and thrive together.
For more ideas and inspiration about how other cities are investing in innovative playful strategies, visit PlayfulCityUSA.org.
A recent Education Week commentary does a nice job of reflecting a KaBOOM! key principle: play and education go hand-in-hand. The commentary, The Case for the New Kindergarten: Challenging and Playful, centers on the false dichotomy "that preschool and kindergarten must either be geared toward play and socioemotional development or focused on rigorous academic instruction."
We couldn't agree more. Play should be a part of well-rounded school day. That is, kids need to learn to read, write, do math and practice problem-solving, teamwork, and creativity, all of which are essential outcomes promoted by Common Core standards.
Furthermore, we know play helps children adjust to the school setting, and enhances their learning readiness, behavior, and problem solving skills. Play indirectly contributes to children learning more hard skills in school by mitigating behavioral problems and increasing academic engagement. Schools without recess face increased incidents of classroom behavioral problems, which detract from learning time. Studies show play may also increase children's capacity to store new information, as their cognitive capacity is enhanced when they are offered drastic changes in activity.
Unfortunately, play is disappearing in schools. A 2009 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 30 percent of children surveyed had little to no recess in their school day. That's nearly one in three kids. This is in spite of research, such as a Gallup poll revealing that elementary school principals overwhelmingly believe recess has a positive impact not only on the development of students' social skills, but also on achievement and learning in the classroom.
As global competition increases, it is imperative that children develop a skill-set relevant to today's workforce and are able to approach challenges with creative solutions in order to navigate our complex, ever-changing world. Critical thinking and collaboration are integral to the jobs of the future—many times more so than hard skills—and balanced and active play helps to develop these skills.
It's time we stop thinking of early childhood education models as an "either or" proposition and value and implement holistic instruction. We encourage you to join the discussion and post your thoughts below on the importance of protecting and promoting the importance of play for all children or share your ideas on how play can be incorporated into education. You can also share this blog post with your social networks to further the conversation.
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.
Last month, Jennie Ito, founder and play and toy Consultant for The Play Kitchen, shared a wonderful story with KaBOOM! about her son and his favorite book, My Dream Playground! Written by KaBOOM! Vice President of Program Management Kate Becker, the book tells the story of a determined young girl who makes her dream playground a reality with the help of her family, friends and community. Jennie’s son Benjamin loved the story so much he chose to share My Dream Playground with his preschool class at the Children’s House of Los Altos. The children in Benjamin’s class were so warmed and excited by the book that they turned it into inspiration for a fun class project and had each child design their very own “dream playground."
Kids need a balance of active play every day in order to become happy, healthy, and successful adults.
We know that play is most fun when it's spontaneous, interactive, and creative. So, KaBOOM! spoke with Benjamin’s teacher, Kiri Fluetsch, to shed more light on how My Dream Playground inspired the kids in Children’s House of Los Altos preschool class to imagine, create and play.
What were some of the kids' reactions after reading My Dream Playground?
“I want to make a playground.”
“What does dream mean?”
“They built it!”
“That looks fun!”
“I want to play there!”
“How did she draw that?”
Our children connected with this story, especially since it was paired with our building unit and our discussions of the building process. My Dream Playground helped show the children the process of building something that was exciting to them, something they have seen in their world and enjoy at school every day.
How did it feel to see the kids' excitement about play after reading My Dream Playground?
The conversations on the playground were amazing. The kids would reference the book, and ask who built their playground. They wondered if children were a part of the planning process and if they got to wear hardhats! As an early childhood educator, watching the children transfer their knowledge from the playground to the story was a great experience. Watching their cognitive processes advance through this story was truly wonderful.
What are some things these kids have learned from My Dream Playground, and how is it inspired them?
We have talked about following your dreams, working to the best of your ability to make your dreams come true, and working together to achieve a goal. The children have created their own dream playgrounds and described their choices for the layout of their dream playgrounds. Each child had to have swings!
How has the topic or perception of play changed in your classrooms since reading My Dream Playground?
I don’t think our perception of play has changed, however, we have been more aware of the children’s thinking process and fostering their ability to think and plan. We have made more opportunities for the children to plan and draw what inspires them.
Do you have plans of continuing or incorporating more activities focused on play? If so, how?
We have incorporated many activities that focus on play. We continuously change our dramatic play area to represent certain themes; it is currently a newspaper office. We have been working on dramatic play activities, such as acting out books and songs. Our schedule also allows for the children to have most of the day for discovering and exploring. The children have many opportunities to play and foster their wants and needs with their peers through activities and materials in both the indoor and outdoor environments.
Why do you think play is important?
As an accredited school through the National Association of the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) we believe that play is important for developing self-regulation, as well as promoting language, cognition and social competence. Play gives children opportunities to interact with others, explore their world, express and control their emotions as well as learning problem solving techniques.
In this April 17 edition of the Third Metric series, HuffPost Live explores the importance of play with KaBOOM! CEO, Darell Hammond. From playgrounds to our own backyards, how do we let go and embrace the art of playing more?
Hosted by HuffPost Live's Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani, Darell was joined by Christina Ramirez, a mother and former preschool teach, and Dr. Vasco Lopes, a child psychologist from Child Mind Institute. The group discussed how cities and communities, in addition to parents and caregivers, can play a key role in creating the opportunities for kids to experience a balance of play that they need to thrive.
Enjoy this guest post from our friends at 1000 Hours Outside, a blog that encourages parents to take their kids outside more and discover the amazing benefits of play.
We know spring weather is hit-or-miss. Here are five reasons to check your 10-day forecast and schedule in spring outdoor time for the days when you're not buried in snow or rain.
Jen, Lisa, and Ginny are moms who have a passion for getting kids outdoors. Stemming from their backgrounds in health, fitness, and education, they are passionate about rivaling screen time with open-air dwelling. They are working to spotlight the myriad of health and developmental benefits that outside playtime provides. They have nine kids amongst them who all love running, building, picnicking, crawling, playing and napping in the open air. Their blog, 1000 Hours Outside is meant to encourage moms, dads, and caregivers everywhere to purposefully schedule outdoor time for their kids. 1000 Hours Outside hosts monthly prize and product giveaways to give families that extra incentive to make this investment into vibrant and healthy childhoods.
The origin of the “high five” is widely unknown, but one thing is for sure: high fives are a great way to show you care and leave you and a friend feeling energized. A simple high five can say so many things. In honor of National High Five Day, here are five reasons high fives make the world a happier place!
High fives build communities
High fives are an easy way to show encouragement, seal a deal, or simply say, “Hey!” Some of the greatest relationships can be formed by sharing a high five. It’s just like a hug—for your hand!
High fives increase positivity
A high five is a surefire way to brighten someone’s day. Typically a high five comes with a smile, which we all know is contagious. Next time you see someone looking a bit blue, give them a high five. It’s guaranteed to bring a smile to their face!
High fives spark laughter
High fives can be silly and creative depending on how far you let your imagination travel. Next time you plan to give a high five, get creative! Do an around-the-back high five; try it while jumping in the air, or surprise a friend with confetti in your hand. The ensuing laughter will be priceless!
High fives encourage play
What may start out as a high five could potentially end up in a simple game of tag or an all-out tickle war! Remember high fives can happen anytime and anywhere, just like play!
High fives will never go out of style
High fives have been around forever, and they will continue to be around as long as we keep being friendly, keep encouraging one another, and keep playing. So go out and share some high fives! There’s no doubt it will make someone’s day!
Last Friday, Rush Limbaugh assigned his listeners homework. He asked them to read Hanna Rosin's Atlantic piece, "The Overprotected Kid," and then to call his show and tell him what they thought of it. Invariably, audience members dialed in and lamented the decline of an era when American parents gave their kids the freedom to skin their knees, sprain their ankles, and return home at dark for supper.
Whether or not you agree that today's affluent, "helicopter parents" are over-supervising their kids' playtime, Hanna Rosin's piece was not intended to address the challenges of the one in five American kids living in poverty. For these young people, the operative question is not whether their play is over- or under-chaperoned. Rather, it's how can we, collectively, ensure that they have safe places and regular opportunities to play at all?
"The Overprotected Kid" describes today's middle-class parents as paranoid and afraid to leave their children alone because of perceived dangers. But in many communities where kids in poverty grow up, the dangers are all too real. For these kids, the primary goal should not be to introduce more danger, but rather to make sure they get the support and attention of caring adults that they need to thrive.
This is why KaBOOM! and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts have launched the America's Most Playful Family contest, which showcases families that are finding creative ways to make play a part of their everyday lives. We have received submissions from an extraordinarily diverse cross-section of American life, from the family who can't afford a karate lesson but serves up a dance party with dinner, to parents who hand their kids a soccer ball instead of an iPad. For these families, play is not a destination, but rather a way of life. We need to make it easier for all families to play actively together—on the city sidewalk, at the bus stop, in the neighborhood park, in the school yard, on the front stoop and even in the living room. And that won't happen without families, schools, communities, and cities getting involved.
Like Rosin, we agree that "reasonable" risks are essential for a child's healthy development. We are fans of so-called "dangerous" playgrounds, ourselves. But the risks that kids face when adults don't provide them with safe opportunities to play are far from reasonable—and this is what we really need to be talking about.
Today's kids play less than any generation before them, and rates of childhood obesity, ADHD, and toxic stress have skyrocketed as a result. Now is the time to change the conversation. Play matters. Without it, no child can reach her full potential.
Where else do life-sized Tamagotchi Friends greet you at the door? Where else can you get a photo with the original Grumpy Cat? Where else can you get a glimpse into all the new toy trends that are soon to hit retailer shelves across the nation?
Toy Fair, that's where!
The American International Toy Fair, sponsored by the Toy Industry Association, is the ultimate gathering for toy industry professionals. Designers, manufacturers, and retailers flock to this annual event at New York City’s Javits Center to showcase their wares, check out the latest in innovative product lines, and gather insight into the newest industry trends.
Last week, the KaBOOM! team (Boomers) joined in the fun to explore new innovations for the Go Out and Play Collection and uncover ways to bring these great ideas from the fair to the families in the communities with which we work.
One big thing we noticed was, like KaBOOM!, the industry focus is that children—and the adults around them—should seek quality play opportunities not just in the traditionally designated playspaces, but everywhere.
Understanding that play cannot be confined to a specific activity type or place, the toys and trends we saw really promote active minds, active bodies, and being active together. But as good Boomers do, we inserted a little play into our work. While gathering crucial insights, our investigative play team made sure to test several products to make doubly sure how much fun could be had! There were a few that stuck out in the crowd.
Our Boomers made it our mission to seek out the best active play products. What we found were a lot of toys that make playtime edgier, challenging you to move faster, bounce higher or bring more friends into activities.
The Wing Flyer by Zike combines elliptical pedal movement with a sleek scooter frame. We have to admit that we crashed a couple of times, but that just made it all the more fun!
“Wow, you got a lot of air!”
Boomers were impressed by the bounce in the Jungle Jumperoo. The promotional materials note that 10 minutes of jumping is equal to 33 minutes of running. We’ll have to do some more research into that claim, but we definitely all broke into a sweat after testing it out.
You wouldn’t think it, but walking on stilts takes a ton of balance, core strength, and coordination! It was a challenge, but our Boomer tester had a lot of fun trying!
“Retro” games were also huge at this year’s Toy Fair. These games and toys brought back classic childhood games with a new twist.
Giant Connect Four made the much-loved game larger than life!
Made by the creators of the original pogo stick, the Flybar uses elastomeric thrusters to bounce fully grown riders up to four feet off the ground.
Integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—also known as STEM—concepts was another big theme. In particular, toys specifically geared to engage girls in STEM learning seemed to be almost everywhere we turned.
In recent years, there has been growing attention given to the low number of women who are entering STEM-based careers. To try and bridge this gap, there has been an increase in popular demand for more STEM-inspired toys geared toward girls. This market has grown in popularity and has been taken on by a number of manufacturers.
You can never go wrong with classic creative construction sets, like this one from Brio, sold in the United States by Schylling. (And if you’re into creative construction on a larger scale, be sure to check out Imagination Playground and Rigamajig!)
Makey Makey is one of the newest products that aims to teach basic circuitry through hands-on, well, making! Those bananas? They’re not for eating, though we were definitely hungry by the time we got here. They’re for making music!
No Toy Fair would be complete without games that engage the creative spirit. Going further than the traditional arts and crafts kits, many products aimed to engage active and inventive minds in a collaborative setting.
Why should Tom Hanks be the only one who gets to act like a "big" kid? The Step-to-Play Giant Piano Mat encourages kids to make music while dancing. Bonus: They might even sit still during piano lessons.
The Big Creativity Can by Faber-Castell includes a handful of open-ended materials—like clay, feathers and popsicle sticks—that allow kids of all ages to push their imaginations to the limit.
Even though we found many great toys at the Fair, it’s good to keep in mind that getting a balance of active play every day doesn’t necessitate having a game or toy. Sometimes, all you need is a friend, family and a little creativity.
For more information on the KaBOOM! Go Out and Play Collection and how you can help support KaBOOM!, go to kaboom.org/store.
Good news: you’re already making a difference and the new year just started. Those who gave in 2013 are helping to make stories like Kenneth’s possible for even more children in 2014. Watch this video and see how play is creating positive change for kids like Kenneth. (Want more? Watch Kenneth's first, second, and third videos, too!).
Play is a powerful thing and, by supporting it, you’re giving kids the childhood they deserve.
Thank you for making play possible for children across the country.