By Osprey Brown
I am a huge fan of playgrounds as I’m sure many other people are. In fact, in my adulthood I’ve been known to sneak onto a swing when no one is looking. When I was small, I was fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood where we had the privilege of having a nice playground. As a kid I never needed much more than a swing and a slide to entertain myself for hours. But not all children have this privilege. Moreover, the role that playgrounds play in our society is becoming even more critical. In an information age, we need to do more with the play spaces that we offer our children. One organization which has helped to improve child play spaces and advance playground technology is KaBOOM!. KaBOOM! is a non-profit that aids community development, childhood health, and education through the power of play by helping to build and renovate play spaces around the country.
The story of KaBOOM! is just as cute as you think it is. Founder Darrell Hammond grew up in a group children’s home in Chicago. As a child, Hammond always had safe open spaces to play in. Hammond founded KaBOOM! after reading a news story about two children who died in a car for lack of a better place to play. Since then KaBOOM! has been building playgrounds, ice rinks, and parks all over the country. Hammond’s endeavors have been, you know, kind of successful, raising a whopping 200 million dollars and renovating and building more than 2,000 thousand playgrounds and parks since KaBOOM!’s inception in 1995.
This is all nice, but what can a playground really do? Apparently, the idea of a playground has the potential to do more than provide a new location for toddlers to trip and fall. Playgrounds and play spaces can be an essential tool in child development if done right. A tool that can help prepare young people for an information age that requires creativity, organization, and problem solving skills to survive in.
The once simple idea of building more playgrounds has blossomed into a number of different play related initiatives which KaBOOM! organizes. In addition to the direct benefit that the children gain from having productive play spaces, KaBOOM!’s programming also contributes to community engagement and leadership development through playground building. Do-it-yourself playgrounds and Community Builds are programs which provide ways for people to get involved in their local areas. By providing the program resources for people to take action KaBOOM! supports individuals who want to build playgrounds in their own communities. Do-it-yourself Playgrounds, provides resources such as playground plans, ideas for volunteers recruitment, and guidance on receiving funding.
So after all the success with building playgrounds, what could possibly be the next step in the playground building industry? Answer: high tech portable playgrounds that increase child creativity and engagement, of course! Hammond has moved passed just giving your little rapscallions a place to play, but also giving them a place to play that lets them be creative, further preparing them for the challenges of their world. Another initiative on the website is Imagination Playground, which is a partnership with New York Architect David Rockwell to build concept playgrounds, the specially designed playgrounds aid in the aforementioned childhood development through creativity and learning. Rockwell’s portable playgrounds are designed around the idea of “free play.”
The idea is that giving children an opportunity to exercise their imagination through unstructured play fosters creativity and problem solving in their developing minds. The portable playground once unfolded provides a range of different parts which the children have the freedom to arrange in any way that their imaginations dictate. The environment is completely malleable to their desires and this creates a more engaging atmosphere for children. Children learn to think creatively about how they might structure their environment for different benefits and functions.
The idea of a playground was so simple. But Playground master Hammond has elevated the status of your run-of-the-mill playground to an epic architectural masterpiece of infant creativity. If the children are our future, then we need to think comprehensively about what it takes to develop the kind of mind that is equipped to live and thrive in our new world. KaBOOM! is helping to pioneer another weapon in childhood education. You can also read more about KaBOOM! in the Washington Post. KaBOOM! also has an entire page on their website devoted to research that demonstrates the positive impact of good play spaces.