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Imagination Playground

Learning Library

Why Play Matters

Nationally, 69 percent of low-income parents report not having a playground in their neighborhood.[i] As for time to play, teachers consistently report better behavior and fewer attention problems for children who have recess, yet recess is being gutted in many school distric ts to make time for test preparation.[ii] Dr. Stuart Brown, a play expert and frequent lecturer at Stanford University, says play is more than fun—it is a vital development system by which humans and animals learn to survive, interact and depend on each other.

Play Associates
A play associate helps a kid stack blocks on a noodle.

Unstructured or "free" play is especially important to school readiness and early childhood education. Especially during pre-school and elementary school, children use "loose parts" to lay the foundation for various cognitive skills that are then regularly called upon in the classroom. Moreover, free play is social; children learn how to build relationships with other people – peers and adults alike – by sharing, compromising, and asking for help. It is crucial that children hone these skills during their elementary school years because, as research from the Alliance for Childhood indicates, executive-functioning skills are more important to future educational success than drilling math and reading lessons designed for standardized tests.[iii]

Imagination Playground™ has been cited as a tactile teaching tool, a creativity-enhancer and a teamwork motivator, and has been lauded for its effectiveness with children on the autism spectrum. Learn more about how Imagination Playground™ and loose parts play can benefit your children using the resources below.


In September 2012, Dr. Jim Elicker, Assoc. Professor, Human Development & Family Studies at Purdue University, led a collaborative research project, sponsored by the A.L. Mailman Foundation and KaBOOM!, to investigate the impact of large-scale block play on the behavior of young children. Learn more about the study.

Play Associate Resources

Play Associates are trained adults who enable a setting in which children can direct their own play. They allow play activity to evolve naturally by maintaining a safe and secure environment, and by renewing and varying the supply of loose parts. Our goal at KaBOOM! is to continually provide resources for our play associates so they can provide the fullest, richest play opportunities possible.

The Play Associate Training can also be viewed in segments using the links below.

Part 1: Play Itself
Part 2: Play Types and Patterns
Part 3: Child Development
Part 4: Role Choices for Play Associates
Part 5: Factors Affecting Role Choice
All Videos
Print Resource
Imagination Playground™ User's Manual

In addition to the online Play Associate training, Play Associates can reference Guidance to Play, a booklet written by George Forman, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Amhearst. Guidance to Play shows Play Associates common activities performed by children with Imagination Playground™, translates that into child development terms, and provides ways to enhance those positive activities.

Download Guidance to Play now! [PDF]

For Play Associates to better understand how children engage with Imagination Playground™, they should have a play session of their own. See how the educators at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School did it.

Additional Training Resources

Play Facilitation Certificate of Completion Training Program offered through the US Play Coalition and Clemson University

Play Facilitation training will help you introduce unstructured play through two different facilitation roles: supporting and directing. The online format allows you to complete the training at your own pace and will take approximately two to three hours to complete. The focus of this training is for adults working with children in age groups of 3-5, 6-8, and 9-11. There is also a brief segment on children ages 12 and up, but the primary focus is on the earlier age groups. Through online quizzes, the Certificate of Completion program ensures comprehension of the training material. There is also an extensive resources section available throughout and after the training. The curriculum and coursework were developed primarily by Dr. Ellen O'Sullivan in conjunction with Fran Mainella and in consultation with many members of the US Play Coalition.

P.L.A.Y. Academy by the Pittsburgh Association of the Education of Young Children

The P.L.A.Y. Academy by the Pittsburgh Association of the Education of Young Children was founded to endorse open-ended materials and experiences that empowered creativity and inventiveness. A 15 session professional development series, the P.L.A.Y. Academy explores disciplines such as math, science and literacy in the context of play as well as the role of the practitioner as an advocate of play. The P.L.A.Y. Academy is offered each year to a cohort of students.

Playworker Development Course

This distance learning program provides a solid foundation in playwork, bringing together people from all over the world and giving them the tools, exercises and mentoring they need to support children's self-directed play effectively and with confidence. We draw on the very best of the long-established UK playwork field as well as our own international "pop-up" practice, which incorporates elements of child development, community outreach and family support.

This 12 module course is ideal for professionals in a range of settings such as schools, parks, playgrounds and children's museums. All course tutors are trained and experienced playworkers who give individual feedback on written work, make suggestions for further reading and support the professional development of you and your team. We also have expert 'special guests' who answer students' questions, and a private forum for you to meet and discuss the course content. All assignments are both practical and reflective, designed to help you develop your own style of play support from the very beginning. Certificate given upon completion. Some subsidized places available, contact for more details. Learn more about Pop-Up Adventure Play.



[i] "Assessment of Play: KaBOOM! Recreation Study." Harris Interactive, 2009.

[ii] "School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior"

[iii] "The Loss of Children's Play: A Public Health Issue." Alliance for Childhood Policy Brief 1