The Science of Learning Meets Architectural Placemaking
Playful Learning Landscapes combines architectural placemaking with the science of learning¹ ². It is an evidence-based model that has been widely tested in Philadelphia and around the world. Thus far, results suggest that transforming public spaces like supermarkets, laundromats, parks, and even libraries and sidewalks with well-designed games that flex cognitive and social muscles changes behavior and interactions in ways known to support children’s development. Playful Learning Landscapes has the potential to reduce inequities in children’s access to high quality environments that improve later outcomes.
Parkopolis enriches play spaces with informal STEM learning. Games, including this life-size board game, are powerful tools for learning academic skills outside of school¹. Number-based board games promote children’s math development², and children learn more effectively when they engage in activities with their whole body³. Researchers observed children and caregivers interacting with Parkopolis and compared their language to a nearby STEM museum exhibit.
Key findings (Bustamante et al., 2020):
79% more children and 47% more caregivers talked about STEM topics like numbers, fractions, patterns, and measurement at Parkopoliis than at the STEM museum exhibit
Families had longer conversations at Parkopolis than at the STEM museum exhibit
Researchers at UC Irvine and El Sol Sciences & Arts Academy partnered in the creation of Fraction Ball in Santa Ana, CA. In Fraction Ball, the lines on a basketball court are painted to emphasize fraction and decimal learning by allowing children to take shots that are worth a fraction of a point. The goal is to earn an exact number of points, represented on a number line next to the court. The 5th and 6th grade students played Fraction Ball in addition to classroom lessons on fractions and decimals.
- Fraction Ball led to significant gains in children’s understanding of how to convert decimals to fractions and fractions to decimals
- Children also transferred the knowledge they learned from Fraction Ball to tasks like basic fraction and decimal addition
Ultimate Block Party
The original Ultimate Block Party invited scientists from across the United States to transform Central Park into a festival of learning. More than two dozen exhibits displayed playful outdoor activities that were based on the principles of playful learning. Researchers surveyed caregiver attitudes and beliefs about play in addition to observing children’s engagement with the activities.
Key findings (Grob et al., 2017):
- Caregivers who visited four or more activities were five times more likely to report that play always leads to learning
- The more activities parents visited, the more parents understood the complex connection between play and learning
The Supermarket Speak project investigated the effects of infusing supermarkets with opportunities for caregiver-child interaction and conversation. Three supermarkets in Philadelphia and Delaware, in both low- and mid-SES neighborhoods, installed signage that prompted caregivers to ask questions to their children while they shopped. Researchers conducted observations to examine families’ interactions and language.
- In low-SES area supermarkets, caregiver-child interaction increased by 33% when the signs were up¹
- Caregivers and children spoke more about numbers – a predictor of later math ability – when the signs prompted number language²
- STEM conversation and interaction increased with STEM-focused signs³
Urban Thinkscape placed playful learning installations at a bus stop and adjacent lot in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The designs were created to tap into active, engaged, meaningful, and socially interactive learning contexts¹ ² while also highlighting specific areas of learning, including spatial skills, literacy, scientific reasoning, and executive functioning.
Key findings (Hassinger-Das et al., 2018):
- Families had longer conversations at Urban Thinkscape than at a neighborhood playground
- 34% of families talked more about STEM topics like numbers, fractions, patterns, and measurement at Urban Thinkscape than the neighborhood playground
- Caregiver-child interaction increased 24% once Urban Thinkscape was installed at the bus stop
Play and Learn Spaces in the Library
The Play and Learn Spaces were constructed in three branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia to increase playful learning opportunities in libraries. The Play and Learn Spaces combine physical activity and playful learning opportunities in purposefully designed installations. From a climbing wall that has letters for children to practice spelling to tangrams that allow children to build structures and exercise their spatial skills, these Play and Learning Spaces support active, engaged, meaningful and socially interactive (and fun!) learning opportunities. Researchers performed on-site observations to measure the impact of the Play and Learn Spaces.
Key findings (Hassinger-Das et al., 2020):
- Children’s STEM and literacy-related conversations increased 44% once the Play and Learn Spaces were installed
- Children spent significantly more time in the Play and Learn Spaces than they previously spent in the former children’s library spaces
Inspired by Candy Chang’s social movement, the Play Wall asked people to recall how they loved to play as a child. By sparking cross-generational conversations and investigating how play memories differed across low- and mixed-income communities, Play Wall explored how play and playful learning is relevant for both children and adults.
Key findings (Schlesinger et al., 2020):
- Community members shared a wide variety of play memories including: adventure play, animal-related play, board games, building, pretend play, digital technology, fantasy, identity exploration, music, playground activities, sports, among others.
- The majority of play responses supported multiple kinds of development (e.g., physical, social and cognitive) and were free or low-cost.
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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