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Playful Cities USA Takes Play Seriously

  • Faiza Elmasry

More than 250 U.S. cities are playful communities, according to Playful City USA, a national program that honors those cities and towns for creating safer environments where kids can play.

The program is run by KaBOOM, a non-profit that promotes active play as a crucial part of daily life for all kids, especially those growing up in underserved areas.

More playgrounds

Play is part of the childhood experience every child deserves. KaBOOM is helping communities to create playgrounds just a few steps from where neighborhood kids live.

KaBOOM City Initiative Director, Myeta Moon, says over the past 20 years, the organization has built more than 2000 playgrounds across North America.

“When we look for a playground, it had to be a place that either doesn’t have one, or have an old one that needs to be updated,” Moon says.

Community residents helped KaBOOM build this playground in Alexandria, Virginia

Community residents helped KaBOOM build this playground in Alexandria, Virginia

Getting neighbors involved is key to the process.

Michelle Robinson, a grandmother of four kids, has lived in this neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia, for almost 40 years. Says she volunteered to help build this playground because it was important for the community and for her grandchildren. “Now I can let them out,” she says. “I don’t have to worry where they are. I set over here watch them over the window.”

Robinson says this playground has changed the way her grandchildren play.

“The kids are not fighting anymore because there is something for them to do now because we have the hopscotch and other games out here,” she adds.

In another neighborhood in Washington, KaBOOM renovated an old playground.

Raquel Saltsman and her daughter come here often. “It’s really nice,” she says. “They did a great job renovating it. The surface is nice. My daughter loves this playground particularly, not just because it’s our neighborhood, but because there is a playground for bigger kids as they get more adventurous.”

Making cities more playful

For 10 years, KaBOOM has sponsored the Playful Cities USA program. Communities submit applications, outlining their projects and activities, hoping to be honored as a playful city. This year, KaBOOM recognized 257 of them.

An alphabet hopscotch game, chalked on a sidewalk in York, Pennsylvania (Courtesy Seth Nenstiel)

An alphabet hopscotch game, chalked on a sidewalk in York, Pennsylvania (Courtesy Seth Nenstiel)

“One of the cities that we like to show as an example is York, Pennsylvania, a very small city,” KaBOOM’s Myeta Moon explains. “They’re doing things like creating play opportunities at bus stops. They are chalking their sidewalks.

They have a play day where they have the entire family participate. We work with the cities throughout the year, provide them with different learning opportunities as they can learn more about how to bring more play to the kids in the city.”

Play challenge

KaBOOM also announced an exciting competition, called the “Play Everywhere Challenge.”

“This is an opportunity for cities, community groups and non-profits to apply for grants," she says. “We’re giving away $1 million in grants so that people can provide us with the best examples of play everywhere. What are those really innovative, creative ideas that you can share and them try to implement.”

No matter which way you look at it, playgrounds are fun

No matter which way you look at it, playgrounds are fun

The goal is to inspire city leaders to consider kids’ needs when designing their communities, because play is important.

“Play contributes to the well-being of the whole child," Moon says. "It helps them to become healthy, balanced adults. It contributes to their social and emotional well-being. It helps them to curb obesity rates.”

And, through helping cities create more playgrounds, KaBOOM creates a more playful society.

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