Play. Learning. Community.

We believe that children and adults learn and develop skills from all kinds of play, and learn best when learning goals are intentionally integrated into joyful play. We challenge ourselves to reimagine our cities and public spaces as playful learning opportunities for all learners.

Play. Learning. Community.

We believe that children and adults learn and develop skills from all kinds of play, and learn best when learning goals are intentionally integrated into joyful play. We challenge ourselves to reimagine our cities and public spaces as playful learning opportunities for all learners.

Practitioners Spotlight: Playful Learning Chicago

April 9, 2021

Three playful learning installations bring opportunities for critical skill building to communities in Chicago’s North Lawndale and Little Village neighborhoods and in Aurora, Illinois. Maya Portillo, Playful Learning Chicago’s Project Manager, shared with Playful Learning Landscapes Action Network the sense of pride caregivers feel after playing a critical role in the process and seeing their ideas brought to life in their communities.

Playful Learning Chicago serves as a model for engaging community members in the design process. The goal of the project is to ensure that everyone is brought to the table to share ideas and express their needs. According to Portillo, nearly every detail receives input from the community, so that it reflects what is important to the community. For example, the upcoming North Lawndale installation along Douglas Boulevard is centered around Juneteenth colors, featuring red, black, and green, and is planned to be unveiled in conjunction with the holiday.. These decisions were priorities taken from the community partners.

 A letter search game asks children to identify the letters they see and find letters that are in their names. (photo: Playful Learning Chicago)

Portillo comes to the project with a sense of humility about her own role and a strong respect for the community and its contribution. “We aren’t the experts on the communities,” Portillo said. “I’ve learned from working with the community that it’s important to compensate the community members for their expertise and their roles in the project as consultants.”

Playful Learning Chicago has also hired Community Parent Ambassadors to spread the word about the purpose of the playful learning installations and to invite other caregivers to explore the sites. Beyond addressing community members’ concerns, playful learning projects must prepare for an extended timeline when working with communities. With a tangible product that will be so visible to the communities, Portillo warns against teams feeling so excited about implementation that the community’s voices fall out of focus.

Collaborating with multiple communities across a city can, however, create challenges for the project team. Researchers assess the impact of playful learning installations by observing how children and their caregivers interact within these spaces. However, some community members were wary of why and how such data might be used. Playful Learning Chicago addressed this concern by committing to transparency in all elements of the project and by sharing the outcomes and written reports back to the community.

Community engagement is critical to success but it requires time and intention and, as noted above, transparency. Portillo advises that you need to set the expectation from the very beginning that meeting several times to gather feedback throughout the project will add time to the project but will add quality. Participants need to understand the challenges of securing funding and moving towards implementation. Setting clear expectations in all of these steps is  important.

“We’re working with the existing support within these communities so that we aren’t reinventing the wheel, but rather working in partnership with community stakeholders,” said Portillo.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, taking learning beyond the classroom has become critically important. Interest in playful learning has soared, and Playful Learning Chicago has responded by increasing its commitment with additional three-dimensional, early-math focused installations, which are expected to be completed in June 2021. These new installations will supplement the existing sites to achieve a “critical mass” of playful learning in each area. Playful Learning Chicago hopes that this project will serve as a model for other communities.  To encourage new communities and lower the financial burden of designing new activities, Playful Learning Chicago will make installations designs and schematic decks available for replication, 

For more information on Playful Learning Chicago, visit https://www.metrofamily.org/programs-and-services/education/playful-learning/

Child and caregiver play Jumping Feet, an activity that targets executive functioning. (photo: Playful Learning Chicago)

What if…

We could transform cities into playful learning centers alive with fun opportunities for children that prepare them for success in a global world?

 

What if, on any given neighborhood block, we could find kids playing together while building skills in math, science, language, and reading? What if we could use the 80% of time children spend outside the classroom to make a difference?

We can!

Playful learning could help all children reach their potential while building stronger cities— Welcome to a playful learning city!

 

Playful Learning Landscapes Action Network infuses the best science of learning into initiatives to build strong cities, offering exciting opportunities to help all children reach their potential. In cities around the world, everyday public places are being transformed – bus stops, libraries, parks – into hubs of playful learning. Working with communities, we can build on their strengths to co-create playful learning opportunities where they are needed most.

We can!

Playful learning could help all children reach their potential while building stronger cities— Welcome to a playful learning city!

 

Playful Learning Landscapes Action Network infuses the best science of learning into initiatives to build strong cities, offering exciting opportunities to help all children reach their potential. In cities around the world, everyday public places are being transformed – bus stops, libraries, parks – into hubs of playful learning. Working with communities, we can build on their strengths to co-create playful learning opportunities where they are needed most.

The 5 principles of how kids learn…

Make it FUN

Joy heightens children’s interest and motivation for learning. People find games challenging and relaxing, creating a positive state called “flow.” Playful learning activities should offer something new every time kids play!

Make it ACTIVE

Children must be “minds on” – acting, not passively observing. Thinking, reasoning, and creating knowledge generates learning. Kids have to do something, not just sit there!

Make it ENGAGING

Kids learn best when they fully commit to an activity – mentally and emotionally. Distraction is the enemy. Make a clear learning goal. Does your activity spark Content, like science, math, or literacy? Critical Thinking? Collaboration? Creativity? All of the above?

Make it MEANINGFUL

Children learn best when learning has purpose. Connect playful learning to their lives and the things they value. Ask: Is this activity intuitive? Is it relevant to families in my community?

Make it SOCIALLY INTERACTIVE

Working together drives learning. Children learn more when they cooperate, discuss, and mingle with others than when they fly solo. When families do things together, children thrive.

Join us!

Playful Learning Landscapes can become a part of your city… from sidewalks to buildings to laundromats. Submit the form below to find out more!

Interested in supporting our work but not sure how?
Consider contributing to our many initiatives.
Thank you!

Checks payable to Ultimate Block Party, Inc. can be sent to:

Ultimate Block Party, Inc.
C/O: Temple Infant & Child Lab
580 Meetinghouse Rd.
Ambler, PA 19002