I could be accused of using hyperbole by naming the play everywhere movement a revolution, but you read on, and I think you will come to agree that this is no exaggeration.
My interest in this idea started when KABOOM launched its Play Everywhere campaign. Here is their description of the program.
KABOOM! created the Play Everywhere concept to inspire kids to play every day and to incorporate it into their normal routines. Play Everywhere innovations and installations bring play to unexpected, but everyday spaces, making play easy and available for kids and families.
While a playground can provide a joyful oasis for play, play must be available in other places to include play opportunities where kids, and their caregivers, are already spending their limited time. Play Everywhere encourages people to think about spaces that could become PLAYces — a laundromat, grocery store, sidewalk, bus stop — any unexciting situation can turn into a stimulating, creative outlet for play.
I liked the idea a lot because I have been following the placemaking movement, the trend of considering the needs of children in urban planning, and the play streets campaign. My take on their decision to go into this area was twofold. It is a logical extension of their commitment to making play accessible to the underserved. I also suspected, but have not verified, that they came to realize that a focus exclusively on parks only addressed a part of the problem. However, after watching the painfully slow progress by those attempting to change the urban environment to be more kid friendly, I felt that this effort would be frustrating for the KABOOM team as they are so accustomed to doing projects a lot of impact and scale, i.e., 17,000 and counting.
I have written many times in this blog about my own frustration with the limited scope of play provided by public playgrounds. Coming from the early childhood education community in which every aspect of play is supported, the typical park playground seems limited, and to be only about active play. In my research, I have identified 20 distinct play patterns. A typical playground only supports four of these.
In 2018 I started thinking about the opportunity to create better play systems for the backyard. In my post, The Great Backyard Play Disaster, I highlighted some of this industry’s deficiencies. I pointed to an example of a better approach, pioneered by my friend Mike Lanza and detailed in his book Playborhood. Mike clearly understans the need for diverse play opportunities. His approach to the high cost of the existing products was to share his home with his neighbors, turning his yard into a community asset. This approach is, in essence, the same as what I understand of the KABOOM concept.
While I absolutely love the idea of shared community play, I fully understood that this would not become a common solution to addressing the play deficit that modern urban life imposes on children like other urban planning ideas. But what approach could solve the problem?
During this same period, we developed the Gymboree Play and Music System. The challenge of that design was that it had to be modular and be quickly reconfigured without tools. I consider this project to be the apex of my career to date. Still, I remain disappointed that we could not introduce even more loose parts and expand the teacher training and curriculum to allow for more reconfiguration during classes. However, the notion of a system that can be quickly reconfigured has given me insights into how a residential system might address the play everywhere concept. While I am excited by the idea of a modular loose part system like our Gymbo concept, I know I will not be content unless we can expand such a system to address more of the play patterns that have been identified.
As a product for homes and early childhood programs, I think the application of the loose part system envisioned here offers the opportunity to really explore such possibilities in depth. For example, what can we do with fabric? How can the system support pretend play? Can kids make play components that are compatible with the system? What about water play? Or the really big one, how about rough and tumble play?
I’m beginning to see a future that allows for all sorts of play to take place wherever there are kids. This is the power of KABOOM’s concept of play everywhere. The concept of Play Everywhere is the seed for a transformative revolution, and boy, is it exciting!