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.
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
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
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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