The Collaborative has been looking at play from many angles through its Play Space initiative, which explores the unexpected ways that innovative play space helps both children and communities grow. Over the past few months, the Collaborative has worked with other proponents of play through the Art of Active Play—a Play Space program that brought advocates for health, child development, design, and play together.
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health/Get Healthy Philly organized a panel discussion on healthy play as part of the Art of Active Play. The panel featured Chloe Brown, a senior at Philadelphia High School for Girls and youth playmaker at the Agatson Urban Nutrition Initiative; Alex Gilliam, director of The Public Workshop; Julie Hendrickson, a landscape architect with LRSLA Studio; Elaine Johnson, founder and director of Latinas in Motion; and Sally Moore, physical education instructor at Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School.
Kelli McIntyre, physical activity coordinator for Philadelphia Department of Public Health/Get Healthy Philly moderated this spirited exhange. Everyone was on the same page about the value of active play for children. But each brought a unique perspective drawn their neighborhoods, schools, and projects.
Expanding our ideas about active play
Get Healthy Philly's Kelli McIntyre kicked off the conversation. "Why is active play important? Because it feels good!" The panelists quickly moved beyond standard images of active play—physical feats on the jungle gym and playing fields—to a more inclusive, flexible concept of active play.
Teacher Sally Moore wanted to see play spaces engage people at all levels of ability. "We need to focus on what we can do rather than on what we can't do." Landscape architect, Julie Hendrickson said, "I've expanded my definition of play. There's fast, active play and slow, exploring play." Girls High student Chloe Brown added, "Don't give us physical activity that feels like exercise." Public Workshop's Alex Gilliam noted, "We're wired to copy one another. If kids are taking risks... the adults will follow."
Pink paint, a dance floor, and a swing set for grownups
An overarching theme in the conversation was the need for play spaces that engage adults too. A member of the audience thought it was ironic that "adults exercise one way... then take their kids to the playground and sit on a bench and look at their phones." "Make it easy for families to be active together," advised Elaine Johnson. She shared successful examples for adding physical activity for adults into play spaces, ranging in scale from a push up bar designed into a child's play structure to a track next to a children's play area.
It's not surprising that the conversation ended with some spontaneous brainstorming about new kinds of play spaces. How about an outdoor dance floor, a pink-painted basketball court, and a swing set for grownups? Sally Moore summed it up best, “Let’s not stick where we are now… let’s go somewhere we haven’t gone before with play space."
Art of Active Play's partners included Philadelphia Department of Public Health/Get Healthy Philly, Public Workshop, DVAEYC, Smith Memorial Playhouse and Playground, People’s Emergency Center, and Amuneal. The Art of Active Play received funding through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The William Penn Foundation.