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Author Archives: Ian Proud

<strong>Market Research Manager, Playworld Systems Inc.</strong> <em>“Once upon a time, the value of parks was beyond debate. But that is no longer true because there have been significant changes in society that affect how public outdoor recreation places are viewed, including budget cuts and technology enabling more sedentary lifestyles.”</em> Ian has led the Inclusive Play initiative at the company since its inception, culminating in development of the Inclusive Play Design Guide, a manufacturer-neutral, inspirational and educational resource for inclusive play. He championed development of the nation’s first electronic outdoor play product, and created the company’s first market research department. Ian has a lifelong fascination with trends, the future, and how we manage change. Ian is currently the research and public relations manager for Playworld Systems. He has taught product design, marketing and creativity courses at Bucknell University and Penn College of Technology. <a href=""></a>

  • Play, preschool and academics

    Three decades ago, 40 percent of a typical preschool day was devoted to child-initiated play. Today, this number has fallen dramatically. Over the years, play has become second fiddle to early academic preparation. But are we actually helping children succeed academically and socially by reducing the amount of play in their day?

    Recent research shows that preschool children who engage in various forms of open-ended play display more complex language skills, more developed social skills, greater levels of empathy, higher levels of creativity, and better-developed interpersonal skills. Additionally, preschool children who spend more time playing are less aggressive, exhibit higher levels of executive function, display more complex thinking skills, and have brains with more complex neurological structures.

    Nations like China, Japan and Finland are touted for their exceptional international math and science assessment scores. Those countries also boast preschools that are playful and experimental, not instructive. Much has been written about Finland and the Scandinavian approach to education, where play is a priority and getting dirty is encouraged and viewed as an opportunity to learn.

    A new documentary shows the contrasts between America’s craze for standardized tests and Scandinavia’s acceptance of nature. Play serves as a powerful engine that drives learning in the preschool years and beyond. “NaturePlay: Take Childhood Back” examines this issue. The underlying differentiation shown in the film is the notion that “children belong in nature and nature belongs in education.”

    Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal featured an article on The Scandinavian School of Jersey City, a “gentle place where 92 children play barefoot to feel a connection to their environment and the air often smells like peppermint or citrus from aromatherapy. Classrooms have bowls of pine cones, seashells and rocks for toys. Some chairs are sawed-off tree stumps.”

    Children who experience play-based preschool programs boast a strong advantage over those who are denied play and are more likely to become happy, healthy, well-adjusted grownups.

    How would you feel about sending your child to a play-focused preschool?

  • Driving Empathy – Inclusion on the Playground

    In my experience, most parents of children with disabilities are fully accepting of their family. They do not want their children to change, but they do yearn for understanding or empathy from other families. The playground can be designed to make that more likely. If we increase contact between typically-developing children and those with disabilities, they are more likely to understand one another.

    Six years ago, Playworld assembled a team of experts from a variety of disability-related fields. This group developed a 70-page Inclusive Play Design Guide (IPDG) intended to be the basis of an international standard for inclusion on the playground. The Guide contends that child development should be the standard around which we design playgrounds, not aesthetics or risk reduction.

    Play is a vital part of children’s development and a key factor in how they come to understand the world around them. Unfortunately, many children are unable to reap the benefits of play or engage in the activity due to the nature of most parks and playgrounds. This is primarily because people constructing play spaces fail to understand that disability is not restricted to physical disability. It also includes brain development disorders such as autism, disabilities related to aging, accident injuries etc. They also tend to confuse “accessibility” with “inclusion” when in fact, they are two separate things altogether.

    To create a successful inclusive playground that creates rich play experiences for children of all abilities. Playworld’s IPDG has 60 different inclusive goals or intents, of which eight are outlined below:

    1. Sensory, Physical & Social
      • Each of these types of play should be incorporated into activities within the playground. Children who have difficulty with sensory input or need help socializing will need this diversity to select what they need
    1. Multiple Challenge Levels
      • By incorporating various levels of challenge, a wider variety of children are welcomed into the play space
    1. Grouping of Activities
      • It is important for activities of different levels to be located near each other, encouraging children to have contact with each other and lessening the appearance of difference
    1. Activities at All Levels
      • Activities for people in chairs should be incorporated at all heights and ground based play must be considered
    1. Pods, Rooms or Zones
      • For larger playgrounds, creating spaces dedicated to certain activities allows children to choose the type of activity they know they can tolerate
    1. The Coolest Thing
      • The main feature of the playground should be something that is usable by everyone
    1. Unitary Surfacing
      • Using unitary surfacing allows for easier accessibility for children with physical disabilities or wheelchairs
    1. Routes and Maneuverability
      • Paths and travels routes through the playground should be wide enough for people and wheelchairs to pass, transfer onto and off equipment, and get close to activities

    These are some of the ways children of all abilities can be made to feel welcome on the playground while still providing enough challenge for the typically-developing child. We can build a community with an invitation to everyone to engage with each other and create empathy in the public space.

    Why is driving empathy important to you?

  • Achieving healthy New Year's resolutions through play

    It’s that time of year again. The resolve to better oneself is underway. However, as time passes we find our enthusiasm dwindling. Have you ever wondered why New Year’s resolutions are so easy to make but so difficult to keep? More often than not, it’s because we fail to introduce a fun element to the resolution, making it seem like a chore.

    Play is one of our best bets at achieving a resolution. It brings us joy and enhances our quality of life. Here are some resolutions play can help us accomplish:

    Losing weight
    Losing weight is one of the most popular New Year resolutions. Joining a gym is another equally popular idea. How about skipping the gym and spending an hour playing outside every day instead? Chances are that we’ll enjoy it a lot more and get some fresh air, all while improving our fitness. Plus – it’s free.

    Improving relationships 
    Play can improve relationships. Playing with our partners, children, friends and family can be a great way of spending quality time together and reinvigorating our bond with them

    Eliminating stress
    We work too hard and play too little. Spending even 30 minutes a day playing or doing something recreational can take our minds off our worries and improve our state of mind

    Higher productivity 
    Everyone wants to be more productive. Taking part in unstructured play on a regular basis impacts the brain positively by increasing motivation and memory, driving efficiency, resulting in increased creativity and productivity

    We often think about how we want to contribute towards society and create a positive impact. Play is the simplest and most meaningful solution. Several underserved communities around the country do not have access to unstructured, outdoor play. Identifying such communities and working with them to build play spaces and recreational zones is a great way to start volunteering

    How are you planning to incorporate play to achieve your New Year’s resolutions?

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