Play as a Way to Ameliorate Poverty

Play as a Way to Ameliorate Poverty

Play as a Way to Ameliorate Poverty

The benefits children get from play are incalculable, yet the children who may need it most tend to get the least of it.

     
Play as a Way to Ameliorate Poverty
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In 2012 the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report entitled The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bond: Focus on Children in Poverty. "It could be argued," the authors write, "that active play is so central to child development that it should be included in the very definition of childhood. […] Play is essential to the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical well-being of children beginning in early childhood. It is a natural tool for children to develop resiliency as they learn to cooperate, overcome challenges, and negotiate with others."

Because these are among the skills that can help poor children cope with and ultimately transcend their socioeconomic station, it is a bitter irony that poor children generally have the least recourse to play. "A nationally representative study of American youth found that the distribution of public parks and recreational facilities was disproportionate such that non-White and low income neighborhoods were fifty percent less likely to have one recreational facility in their community than White and high income neighbourhoods," wrote the National Recreation and Park Association in 2012.

To redress—or at least work around—this inequity in the United States, enter KaBOOM!, a nonprofit organization "dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids, particularly those growing up in poverty in America. […] We do this by creating great places to play, inspiring communities to promote and support play and driving the national discussion about the importance of play in fostering healthy and productive lives."

Since its founding in 1996, KaBOOM! brags of having built or improved nearly 17,000 play spaces (of "PLAYces"). And in 2016, KaBOOM! handed out $1 million in grants to 50 winners of the organization's Play Everywhere Challenge, a program "to inspire cities, residents, leaders, and community members to design and implement creative PLAYces for kids" and to fund the best ideas. As The New York Times reports, among the winners were "a giant solar-powered bubble maker that will send bubbles over a busy Minneapolis thoroughfare, periscopes built out of PVC tubes at East Harlem bus stops, slides installed next to stairways in Knoxville, and retractable jump ropes outside barber shops and salons in Richmond, VA. Philadelphia, which in recent years has become one of the poorest U.S. cities, scored three winning proposals.

It's all part of KaBOOM!'s "play everywhere" mantra. "Play does not always have to happen on a playground," the organization says. "While playgrounds provide joyful oases for play, sometimes play must be available in other places. In an effort to include play opportunities where kids already spend time, 'play everywhere' encourages people to think about spaces that could become PLAYces: whether it’s a laundromat, grocery store, sidewalk, bus stop, or somewhere else, these often-boring situations can turn into stimulating, creative outlets for play."

A related and highly innovative tactic was recently employed in Khlong Toei, one of Bangkok's most impoverished neighborhoods. A densely packed slum, Khlong Toei was generally believed to have no usable space left. But as Eillie Anzilotti reported for CityLab, real-estate development firm AP Thailand hit upon the concept of transforming asymmetrical vacant lots into small, unconventional soccer fields. In partnership with design agency CJ Worx, AP Thailand's Unusual Football Field Project, which has resulted in numerous new play spaces for some of Thailand's most underserved youth.

"The idea questions the limits of space in order to illustrate our brand’s belief that 'Space can change one’s life,' says AP Thailand. "[…] We hope that other communities will adapt this idea to change their own irregular space[s] into an area for organizing various activities, under the concept that 'Any abnormal space can achieve the highest benefit.'”

It's the sort of thinking that can—and should—be applied everywhere, especially in the lowest-income areas, where, as Jordan Shapiro notes in his 2014 Forbes article "3 Ways To Close The 'Play Gap' Between Rich And Poor Kids," average students get an a average of only 18 minutes of recess per day, with 28 percent getting no recess at all. Shapiro offers three strategies for dealing with this problem, incorporating the findings of KaBOOM!’s Playful City Leaders Summit study “Using Behavioral Economics to Create Playable Cities":

  1. Play Everywhere.”Turn downtime into play time. Throughout our days, we are faced with idle time. At the bus stop, the train station, or waiting for the doctor, parents need ways to keep their children occupied. These days, mundane moments like these are filled with smartphone gaming, or other easy digital distractions. By structurally integrating unexpected playful options into city, however, “play can turn moments of frustration into fun-filled moments of engaged family time.”
  2. Proximity Matters. This is a matter of convenience. Think about the difference between the grocery store and the corner store; one is a scheduled destination, the other a place to grab and go. By creating closer and smaller “play destinations,” cities can encourage more short and quick opportunities for play. “We need to create a second type of play space that is small and limited, but right around the corner--a ‘convenience store’ for play.”
  3. Family-Friendly Cities. Create play spaces that are not aimed at only children, but also at their parents. “If we could 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.” Creating safe spaces that offer social opportunities for parents and play time for children will help cities that are fiercely competing to attract and retain the residents who “breath[e] energy and enterprise into neighborhoods.

As the American Academy of Pediatrics notes, "For children who are underresourced to reach their highest potential, it is essential that parents, educators, and pediatricians recognize the importance of lifelong benefits that children gain from play." That goes for city planners, too, because it's not just the money, stupid: it's also location, location, location. And although we may be very far from eradicating poverty or creating an equitable socioeconomic system, providing underserved children with more and better play options is a goal well within reach.

 

Image by: nhattienle94 

About the Author:

Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California.  Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing. 

His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly, GreaterLongBeach.com, and a variety of academic and literary journals.  HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up.  For more information:  greggorymoore.com

 

 

 

 

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Last Updated : Friday, August 11, 2017