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Playgrounds

  • The KaBOOM! Play Everywhere Challenge is now open!

    Science and common sense agree: kids need play to grow up healthy, resilient and ready for life. But far too many children miss out on the chance to play because of where they live, where they come from or how much their families earn. To make this a thing of the past and help cities create spaces and opportunities for all kids to play as they grow, Playworld is collaborating with KaBOOM! on the organization’s Play Everywhere Challenge.

    The Play Everywhere Challenge, which opened to the public this week, is a $1 million national competition that will award innovative, replicable ideas in city redevelopment and design that make play easy, available and fun for kids and families. The Challenge seeks creative and community-driven solutions that integrate play into everyday life and unexpected places – sidewalks, vacant lots, bus stops, open streets, and beyond. At Playworld, we’re excited to see the creative and awe-inspiring ideas the Play Everywhere Challenge generates.

    Designing meaningful play experiences and believing in the transformative power of play are central to our values at Playworld. We’re thrilled to collaborate on an initiative that will rally applicants who share our goal of promoting daily play as key to ensuring the health and success of America's kids.

    Applications are being accepted through May 31, 2016. Submit your creative solution to make play a way of life in everyday and unexpected locations.

    To learn more about the Play Everywhere Challenge and submit your idea, visit playeverywhere.kaboom.org.

  • Scattered showers with a 100 percent chance no one else will be at the playground

    Chantal Panozzo is an American writer who spent almost a decade in Switzerland. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and many other publications. The author of Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, she is a mom to a four-year-old puddle jumping daughter. Together, often dressed from head to toe in rubbery wonderfulness, they continue to embrace the European lifestyle they once lived, even from their new home in the Chicago suburbs.

    My daughter and I both love Peppa Pig for the same reason: she joyfully jumps in muddy puddles. Being British, Peppa Pig goes outside when Americans don’t. My daughter—even though she’s also American—plays outside in less than optimal weather too. She can’t help it—she was born and spent her first three years in Switzerland, where playtime was almost always synonymous with outdoor time.

    Oh, to enjoy the weather. To really and truly sing in the rain instead of watching someone else do so in a movie. To see your breath in the cold air. To feel a snowflake on your tongue. But as I have learned after moving back to the U.S. after spending almost a decade in Europe, embracing the weather is un-American. We hide in our heated and air conditioned houses year-round, allowing our temperature-controlled surroundings to create the perfect climate for couch sitting while we wait for the four perfect days a year we consider the great outdoors great.

    As a mother in Switzerland, I didn’t think twice about dressing my infant daughter in an enormous snowsuit and placing her atop a picnic table at 7,000 feet above sea level while my husband and I drank in the cold Alpine air like its own après ski offering. We snow shoed through knee-deep mountain trails with our daughter on our back. We sat outside at Swiss cafes year round while our daughter sat bundled in a specially designed sleep sack attached to her mountain stroller. We hiked in the rain. We hiked when it was hot. We hiked when it was cold. And when our daughter learned to walk, she hiked in every kind of weather too.

    So imagine my surprise when we moved back to the States and I took my daughter’s collection of rubber rain pants, boots, and big coats to her new Montessori school only to find that they spent more time on her coat hook than on her. Weather has power over American children, not vice versa. The notes from the school told us just that when they reminded us of the appropriate temperatures for outdoor play.

    If you observe what most American kids wear, you wouldn’t know what season it is. Sweaters are worn in the summer since air conditioning allows us to forget its summer. Mary Janes are worn on snowy days since walking outdoors is not something a car culture encourages. And rainy days don’t inspire rain boots and rubber pants, but YouTube videos of British pigs jumping in puddles while American children, ever dry and climate controlled, watch them have all the fun.

    Recently, I visited a Finnish father of a 3-year-old, who had moved to New York City after living in Helsinki, Düsseldorf, and London.

    “I don’t get it,” he said. “My new son’s school tells me I overdress him. I’m just dressing him properly for the weather so he can play outside.”

    “Do you have those European rain pants too?” I asked.

    He nodded and I smiled. “Perfect. Let’s go to the park.”

    It was cold; there were scattered showers in the forecast but also a 100 percent chance that we didn’t care. As the kids joyfully went up and down the slides in a Central Park playground, my Finnish friend and I looked around, but there wasn’t much to see. We were in a city of 8.4 million, yet thanks to a few dark clouds, we had the playground to ourselves.

  • 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?

  • Homework can wait, childhood will not

    Sasha Brown-Worsham is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Runner's World, Cosmopolitan, Parents and countless other magazines and newspapers. She is currently an editor at She Knows Media and mom to three kids, 9, 7, and 2. She and her family live outside New York City. She was inspired to write this after an elementary school in her community banned homework for younger kids.

    It’s 7 o’clock at night and my children are winding down for the evening. As we take the (long, torturous) walk toward the bedtime routine — bath, teeth brushing, kisses, reading — I hold my breath knowing that this day, like every day, I will put my kids to bed feeling incomplete. Yet again, despite my best efforts, my third and second graders will go to bed without having completed every bit of their homework. Our agreement is 45 minutes in their room with their books open. After that, they can stop. Sadly, that often leaves a lot undone. It’s a lot of misery. Every. Damn. Night. We are not alone.

    As elementary school becomes more and more academically challenging, play is becoming obsolete. In New Jersey, my home state, Governor Chris Christie recently vetoed a bill that would have made 20 minutes of recess mandatory in elementary schools. It’s insane. Anecdotally, friends report total homework meltdowns night after night. And in my house, it is no different. We have a rhythm to our evening and homework is part of it, but the feeling of never really hitting the mark, never getting it all finished, ruins what should be otherwise lovely nights.

    Last week, I’d finally had enough. It was the first week of spring weather after a cold winter and when my kids came home on Tuesday night, their backpacks laden with worksheets, books, and spelling homework, I declared a moratorium on homework. At least for a couple days.

    “Let’s go to the park,” I told them. We packed the toddler into her wagon and alternated between pulling her and letting her pull her way the five or so blocks to the park. My kids threw balls, they climbed to the top of the equipment, they went down the slides, and played tag. By the time we came home, dirty, sweaty, and tired, they were ready for a family dinner and reading before bedtime. It was the perfect night. If only every night could be like that.

    Living in the Northeast, we obviously can’t promise sunshine and 70 degrees every night of the week. But we can promise play. We can return to the days of tag after school ends and ghosts in the graveyard and tying our wagons to bikes and hoping they don’t flip. “Play is the highest form of research,” Albert Einstein once said. And I see it with my own eyes.

    It is through play that my children build their imaginations. That chair in the backyard? Cover it with a blanket and it’s a secret hideout for the kids when they go on spy missions. The swingset in the backyard has swings, a playhouse, and rings, but in kid-speak they could be rocket ships to the moon, a pirate ship, and a path to Olympic glory. They hula hoop and ride bikes, they toss balls into baskets and stomp rockets high into the trees, they turn cartwheels through the grass, and laugh as they tumble to the ground. Every single one of these activities is more important to their growth and education than a math worksheet could ever hope to be.

    So why are we insisting on loading our kids down with busy work?

    “It teaches responsibility,” one father said during a debate among some of my parent friends. But does it? As far as I can tell, the only thing homework teaches my kids is that mommy is crazy and yells a lot. And when I do yell, I am not doing it because I think they are wasting  an intellectual opportunity or not living up to their academic potential. I am doing so because I don’t want to get shamed by the teacher. I dread notes from the teacher in regards to the performance of my own children far more than I did notes about my own when I was in school. I cringe at the thought of looks from other parents whose children are on top of their homework. So I force my kids through the exercise every night even though I know logically, based on extensive research, that I am doing nothing but loading them down with facts they will forget in two years once they have also earned themselves a healthy hatred of school and the system that has made it so ridiculous.

    This is no way to live.

    My children are 9 and 7 and they spend 6.5 hours of their day in school. They get 20 minutes of outdoor time. If it’s not raining or cold. To send them home to do more indoor busy work seems criminal. They should be exploring their bodies, moving, playing, and reading. They should be eating slow family dinners and running around with friends, imagining their future.

    They have plenty of paperwork to look forward to. Taxes. Bills. Applications for mortgages. Applications for schools and camps. It’s all coming soon enough. For now, let’s let them play until they are dirty and tired. Let’s let them imagine their futures as pirates and fairies and doctors and engineers. Let’s let them build and read and have a couple hours of freedom. Childhood is brief and fleeting. It is a fraction of a total lifetime. And yet, it is the foundation on which an entire future is based.

    Adulthood comes soon enough. While they are still young, let’s let them laugh and imagine and play themselves to exhaustion.

  • Investing in early childhood play is an investment in tomorrow’s leaders

    A vast majority of young children are accustomed to their daily routine: school and homework.

    Kindergarteners, in addition to spending most of their time indoors, are spending nearly 25 minutes a day on homework. This is despite the fact that the National Education Association (NEA) and the National Parents Teachers Association (PTA) don’t endorse homework for kindergarten.

    Preschoolers are not getting enough play. 30 years ago, it was a different story – 40 percent of a typical preschool day was devoted to child-initiated play. This number has more recently fallen to a meager 25 percent (Miller & Almon, 2009).

    Play is critical for young children to develop various skills that they’ll utilize throughout their lives.  Engaging in unstructured play allows children to explore and develop numerous abilities such as problem-solving, decision making and self-expression.

    Children need interaction, imagination, and creativity. Countries such as China, Japan and Finland, often touted for exceptional international math and science assessment scores, boast preschools that are full of fun and experimental learning – via play!

    Research shows that play serves as a strong engine to power learning in the preschool years and beyond. Children under 5 enrolled in play-based preschool programs possess a strong advantage over those who are denied play, and are more likely to grow into happy, healthy and well-adjusted adults.

    In fact, a recent review of 180 research studies by Duke University psychologist and neuroscientist Harris Cooper revealed that the benefits of homework are highly reliant on age. The review found that for elementary school-aged kids and younger, it is best to hold off on homework because it can potentially have a negative impact. When assigned too early on, homework can foster a negative attitude towards school in general. And it takes time away from them playing, and learning through play.

    It’s clear that when they play, young children develop fine and gross motor skills, balance and strength, plus cognitive and social skills. Playworld’s early childhood play equipment are specifically engineered to build these skills and help children make the most of their priceless play time.

    Learn more about our early childhood product offerings here.

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