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January 6, 2016 10:22 PMCategory: Physical Activity

Planning Play for All

This entry was written by KaBOOM!

We at KaBOOM! think that multi-generational play is one of the best ways to provide all people, regardless of age, opportunities to be active.  We believe that when the built environment is family-friendly and offers opportunities for family members of all ages to engage in playful activities, parents are more likely to prioritize playtime. When parents prioritize play and when play is easily accessible, more kids, especially kids living in poverty, get the balanced and active play they need to thrive.

KaBOOM playability

In a recent article, Sarah Pinsky, director of account management at KaBOOM!, told The Huffington Post “Play is a great connector for adults and seniors and the children in their lives. In addition to the cognitive and physical benefits of play, it can also reduce stress in adults and is proven to help combat toxic stress in kids.”

There are two ways KaBOOM! has worked to encourage multi-generational play. The first is through adult-friendly play installations at playgrounds. These playgrounds can include a variety of equipment, such as walking paths, low impact exercise stations, weight-training, and game tops on picnic tables. KaBOOM! has built 53 multi-generational playgrounds across America, mostly in partnership with Humana, that have served 135,471 kids and 61,500 seniors.

KaBOOM playground 2KaBOOM playground 1

Multi-generational play equipment in Riverside, California

KaBOOM chess board

Game top picnic table in Green Bay, Wisconsin

While playgrounds that offer equipment for adults are impactful, we also need to think about how to bring play beyond the playground. KaBOOM!, along with the behavioral economics group ideas42, conducted research last year that demonstrated a simple fact:  If we focus on creating family-friendly places that appeal to all generations, we will increase the motivation of adults to take their kids to play for longer and more frequent periods of time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, adults like taking their kids to play if they also enjoy the experience – if there’s some play in it for them, too!

Through the Playful City USA program, KaBOOM! works with local leaders, including elected officials,  transportation planners, community planners, park directors, and public health officials, from more than 200 communities to help them reimagine their cities with kids and  families in mind. Some of the ways communities have done this is by making it easier to play along the way with playful art on sidewalks, family-friendly walking and biking infrastructure, playful bus stops and play pods located along walking trails. A great aspect of these types of projects is the fact that when sidewalks, streets, bike lanes, parks and play spaces are safe for kids, they are safe for all residents, especially seniors.

KaBOOM sidewalk art

Sidewalk art that encourages movement in York, Pennsylvania

KaBOOM bus stop

Playful bus stop in Baltimore, Maryland

Thoughtful planning, then, is essential to expanding opportunities for multi-generational play –  and through that expansion, better quality of life for all. Planners can help improve access to play for all ages by:

  • Considering kids and seniors in all designs and policies.
  • Working across departments: Be involved in park projects, consider yourself a public health official, understand how people will travel throughout your community.
  • Reviewing all policies through an equity lens- are your projects impacting the underserved communities that would most benefit from infrastructure improvements? Are you being creative in how you engage community members that are unable to attend meetings?
  • Recognizing the long-term competitive advantage your community will experience if you provide play spaces for the old and young.
  • Encouraging your community to apply for Playful City USA recognition.

When cities plan for all ages and invest in play, kids are not the only ones who benefit. Now and in the future, the most successful cities will be those with the greatest access to multi-generational play.