The more I learn about the importance of play and its many benefits, the more I wonder why it is relatively scarce in everyday life. Even as a staunch advocate for play, in my life it accounts for only a few minutes out of each day. It’s easy to see the same paucity of play in friends, schools, and workplaces. If you agree with my observation that the presence of play in our lives seems to be inversely related to its value, then this is something we need to explore further.
Last week, I went on a road trip with my daughter through the Midwest visiting college campuses. Along the way we also visited different playgrounds in Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, and Indiana. We were busy. When we got to Michigan, I realized that I had not been there for 10 years. The last time I was in Michigan, I was working on the Able to Play project (ATP). ATP was a project of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in honor of their 75th anniversary. They contracted with Boundless Playgrounds (BP) to create approximately 23 inclusive play spaces. Boundless Playgrounds sub-contracted the creation of indoor play spaces to the Center for Creative Play of which I was at the time the Executive Director.
s a designer of play apparatus and spaces I try to insure my projects will be of high value to children by including attributes that I have learned are required to create a great play setting. For example, does the environment link activities and allow the play to flow? Does it support social interaction? Are there various degrees of challenges? etc. If you create or buy playgrounds, I’m sure you use similar criteria. Lately I have begun to see that this way of evaluating a play space is looking at play as a product rather than an experience. To begin to create truly innovative projects, I needed to find a new way of thinking about designing based on a deeper sense of play rather than just focus on the physical objects.