Pop Up Play for Ukraine – Update

KABOOM Play Facilitator at the ready

Beyond Active Play – The value of cohort flow through play

I’ve devoted six decades to creating active play systems. The most recent project has been exploring augmented reality to provide ways to expand the benefits of active play.

Two things have motivated me to pivot in a new direction. First, the bruhaha about the metaverse and all that silliness that has ensued makes working on augmented reality problematic. But more than that, the current situation of the children displaced by the invasion of Ukraine has compelled me to look at ways to help ease the trauma being inflicted.

Hurry Up and Wait

That phrase comes from the military and can be applied to refugees as well. Children are hustled from place to place, surrounded by chaos and the smell of fear. These spasms of displacement are punctuated by waiting – waiting in basements, lines, public spaces, and shelters. Seldom do these pauses have known periods, so routines, which are the anchors for childhood, cannot be established.

Those who support refugees often recognize the harm caused by forced dislocation and do what they can to ease the pain. The newsreels are filled with pictures of children clutching stuffed toys or playing with balls. While these are important, their impact is very transitory.

Aid agencies also recognize the need for mental health support. However, while therapeutic counseling is ideal, most children will not receive treatment when millions of children are in need, and only a few hundred clinicians are available.

The situation is complicated because, for many children, the worst part of their evacuation is being separated from their fathers. Unfortunately, however, all too many have seen things no one should have to endure.

Meeting the Need

There are two major categories of need. First, there must be an efficient system to tirage children to identify those most in need of mental health services. Second, those locations where children must wait for extended periods must be equipped with play systems that engage and support group play.

Over the last three months, my cohort of play advocates and I have struggled to find a concept that can address both needs. The criteria are been refined to:

Mental Health

  • Small groups of children must be observed by a play facilitator who is trained to support but in no way direct children’s play.
  • Play facilitators must be trained to deal with the expected abradant behaviors brought on by trauma, such as depression and acting out, and to do so without judgment.
  • Facilitator training must include the ability to carefully observe and listen to children to identify those who most need individualized counseling.

Play Systems must be:

  • Compact and portable
  • Appealing to as wide an age and ability range
  • Complex and infinitely variable
  • Full of learning opportunities
  • Supportive of collaborative play
  • Equipped with elements that stimulate pretend play without triggering

Here is the current presentation illustrating the solution we propose.

Pop Up Play for Ukraine

Over the past three months, I have been working diligently to get large-scale loose part play systems to children displaced by the invasion of Ukraine. It turns out this is extremely difficult. Here’s why,

Children’s right to play is often given lower priority than providing food, shelter, and medicines, even though play is crucial to children’s well-being, development, health, and survival in crisis circumstances.

Play helps refugee children who have experienced bereavement, violence, abuse, or exploitation to overcome emotional pain and regain control over their lives. Children use play to process their emotions. They need to do this while wounds are fresh, or they will harden to deep lifetime scars.

Millions of children have been displaced from their homes. But not just from their homes. They have also been displaced from their schools and playgrounds. When the fighting stops, it may be years before things are back to normal. Meanwhile, the Pop Up Play Systems will be there, keeping play alive and helping children thrive.

Rotary’s efforts in support of Ukraine

As one of the world’s largest humanitarian organizations, Rotary has made peace the cornerstone of our global mission. Many Rotarians are deeply concerned about the Ukraine crisis and especially want to help the children.

Donor clubs receive notification of the installation of their Pop Up systems. In addition, the recipient’s programs are asked to send photos back to the donors club so they can see the benefits.

Rotary Clubs in Ukraine and neighboring countries sheltering refugees will identify shelters and schools that need portable play apparatus.

Clubs apply for grants and earmark their donations to Pop Up Play for Ukraine. They also designate the shipping location, which may be the program or a location of the club’s choosing.

Systems for the displaced must be:

  • Portable to go where needed
  • Durable to last without failure
  • Complex to fully engage kids

To soothe trauma, kids need:

  • To feel and be secure
  • To have a sense of control
  • To connect with other kids
  • To maintain long duration play periods

The Pop Up Systems

Having launched many play products and systems, I have learned that success requires a range of products. This is somewhat the same phenomenon as restaurants, which do better in a place that has other restaurants. Therefore, the business plan for Pop Up Play, is to present the only three systems that meet our criteria. (Imagination Playground Blue Blocks are functionally compatible but they don’t flat pack.)

Our research to date indicates that the process must start with a program or agency on the ground. For example, this is how the Rotary grants work. Reaching these programs appears to be as much a matter of finding people who know people. Our efforts going forward will be to trace down the leads we have in hand and see where it takes us.

Cas Holman has spent the last 18 Years designing for play, education, and imagination. The products and materials are manipulable parts and pieces which inspire constructive play, imaginative forms, and cooperative interactions between children.

The Rigamajig Basic Builder is a large-scale wooden building kit conceived for hands-on play and STE(A)M learning. Rigamajig products are now found in hundreds of schools, playgrounds, children’s and science museums, community organizations, libraries, maker spaces, and homes worldwide.  

We will be sending the Basic Builder plus the Machine Set.

Kitcamp panels are engineered to be robust enough to support children and light enough for kids to carry around.

The simple assembly method, combined with the lightweight and strength, allows kids to quickly and easily build incredible dens, forts, houses, rockets, ships, or whatever they imagine.

Kitcamp® is a patented, disruptive, and innovative large-scale loose parts play solution to young children’s modern global challenges.

The basic idea of children having their own space to be, feel secure, and be lost in thought. What a simple way of gifting time to children.

The den as a ‘designated space’ offering privacy and a sense of control is the essential human need for secret spaces to withdraw to because they shelter ‘daydreaming.’

Since 2007 Marcus Veerman, CEO and Founder of Playground Ideas has been supporting communities around the world to build open-source playgrounds using local tools, materials, and skills.

He founded Playground Ideas after spearheading the construction of 40 bespoke playgrounds along the Thai/Burma border.

Playground Ideas has built 5,223 playgrounds in 143 countries and impacted 2,611,330 children.

Nudel KART is an outgrowth of the need he saw in his work.