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The Art of Active Play Recaptured

“Make it easy for families to be active together... Build something special and beautiful… Don’t give us physical activity that feels like exercise.”

This is just some of the advice offered on how to design play spaces for Philadelphia. The Collaborative has been looking at play from many angles through our 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. 

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. 

Why are we working together? Since 2009, Philadelphia has seen a 6.3% reduction in obesity among school-aged children. Yet more work needs to be done. One in five children is still obese and rates have actually increased in the last three years among younger girls (grades K-5). Physical activity is a key part of preventing and reducing obesity. Another local study showed that girls were six times less likely than boys to get the recommended amount of daily physical activity.  

Through the Art of Active Play, we took a deeper look at the link between physical activity and children's health. We also did some very hands-on exploration into the kinds of play spaces Philadelphia needs to get children, especially girls, moving. 

From August to October, the Art of Active Play took us to the sidewalks of Lancaster Avenue and the front lawn of Smith Memorial Playground. From these vantage points we put our heads together to think about how to encourage active play in neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia. Here’s a recap of the Art of Active Play... 

Community Design-Build
Testing out the fort gym: The pull up bar spurred a community contest on Lancaster Avenue. 31 pull ups was the record... not bad for late summer!

In August 2015, Public Workshop led three community design-build projects on Lancaster Avenue. Youth, design professionals, artists, and members of the community designed rough prototypes for play structures out of lumber and, later, helped build them. The three resulting play structures were dubbed the “balance beams,” “fort gym,” and “switchback bench.”

A hallmark of the effort was an open invitation to anyone passing by to test, tinker, and talk about the designs in progress. Made of wood, they allowed for evolution. Later, a second switchback bench was fabricated in metal by Amuneal. 

Smith Memorial Playground Installation
Trying out the balance beams in the front lawn of Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse.

The play structures spent a month on Lancaster Avenue and then moved to the front lawn of Smith Memorial Playground for one week in October during DesignPhiladelphia, a festival showcasing local design of all kinds. The installation offered children and families a friendly and very hands-on way to experience design. 

Healthy Play Panel
"We have to make these spaces where families come together." - Elaine Johnson, founder and director of Latinas in Motion

A Healthy Play Panel, organized by Philadelphia Department of Public Health/Get Healthy Philly, brought advocates for health, child development, design, and play together.  Learn more about this spirited exchange between 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; Sally Moore, physical education instructor at Julia R. Masterman Secondary School, and Kelli McIntyre, physical activity coordinator for Get Healthy Philly. 

Family Play Day
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A special invitation was extended to children and their families to try out the play structures on Columbus Day, when Smith Memorial Playground is usually closed to the public. Hundreds of children and adults came out to climb, swing, and leap on the balance beams, fort gym, and switchback bench.

Public Workshop let kids try out power tools as they added finishing touches to the fort.

One Last Step... 

The play structures will now get permanent homes. The balance beams will stay at Smith Memorial Playground. The fort gym will become part of a play space on the 4100 block of Lancaster Avenue built by The Public Workshop, People’s Emergency Center’s Community Connectors, and neighbors. Philadelphia Department of Public Health/Get Healthy Philly will be sending out an open call to neighborhoods for the switchback bench.



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