Blog

1 Oct
How Playgrounds Went Viral in Morocco
Posted by Elizabeth Moreno

Two Peace Corps volunteers and some old tires sparked a word-of-mouth wave of DIY playgrounds in North Africa.

By Elizabeth Moreno

Bouarfa, Morocco was not what Josh Jentzsch had in mind when he signed up for the Peace Corps. “It’s cold,” he told me over a crackling Skype connection. Dry, barren, empty, and rural. “It kind of looks like Mars.”

Throughout orientation he heard tales from experienced volunteers who had organized youth camps, lead workshops, facilitated trainings, and spearheaded transformational development projects. Anything seemed possible. And then Josh left orientation in the capital and landed in Bouarfa.

Read the full story on Medium.com

How Playgrounds Went Viral in Morocco
1 Oct
The Cubby House Where it All Began
Posted by Marcus Veerman

How one playground in rural Thailand sparked an open-source movement of play across 72 countries

by Marcus Veerman (Founder & CEO of Playground Ideas) and staff

Playground Ideas was born by sheer accident. When my wife Willow agreed to marry me in 2006, it was on the condition that we would spend a portion of our lives together in some far flung region of the world doing something for the common good. That day arrived sooner than I thought and the following year the two of us stepped onto a plane bound for Mae Sot, Thailand with a single backpack each. Willow had been offered a job working with refugees along the Thai-Burma border. I left a great position in Melbourne, Australia and arrived in Thailand with absolutely no idea what I was going to do for the next 2 years. For the first time in my adult life, I was free to do whatever I wanted.

Read the full story on Medium.com 

The Cubby House Where it All Began
2 Sep
Dirt isn’t just for plants….
Posted by Guest Author

By Reilly Bergin Wilson

Based on close observations of four young children, I have garnered some conclusions on the allure of dirt.
Dirt is a living substance through which young children not only explore, but actively shape the world they inhabit. There are hidden treasures to be uncovered, such as a worms and the roots of plants. And like worms, in the course of dirt play children create moments in space and time that are ephemeral and secondary to their aim, which is mainly to move through the dirt, with fingers or shovels or sticks, but which serve a vibrant role in the larger ecosystem. By traversing through dirt, worms aerate and fertilize the soil as a byproduct of tunneling, children similarly engender positive social interaction through the seemingly natural inclination to join forces in an effort to build ever more complex, more meaningful space.


In urban areas, children are often denied the opportunity to shape their physical environment. Although post-industrialized cities frequently feature child-centric infrastructure, particularly accessible to the progeny of the socioeconomically privileged, such manufactured environments are often entirely predetermined by adults, whose influence is cemented through the physical stasis of their elements. Frequently, the only method a child has for physically influencing an urban child-centric environment is through seemingly destructive acts: to exercise one's creative voice in the parameters of designed permanence in effect requires acts of vandalism.


Dirt, uninhibited by the defining influence of manicured plantings, enables the rare opportunity in the urban child's existence to actively participate in the creation of their physical space, if only momentarily. Dirt play provides agency for young children–the choice to build a hill and destroy it lies temporarily within their empowered domain. Through the experience of inhabiting physically autonomous space, dirt play aids children in the conceptualization of the inherent limitations of power by demonstrating that existence as the controlling authority does not translate into total control of a situation.

Unlike toys manufactured for sturdiness, creations engineered in dirt are fragile and often unpredictable. Children primarily experience the world as an arena that adults control, and as a result often conceptualize adult authority as absolute. Through inhabiting the role of the autonomous being, playing with dirt enables an understanding that the authoritarian power structures that dominate children's daily existence are specious, necessarily propped up by unrevealed support.
An urban child armed with a shovel is empowered to interact with the world on his or her own terms, if only provided the opportunity of dirt.

Dirt isn’t just for plants….
2 Sep
Ruben Centre – Nairobi, Kenya
Posted by Elizabeth Moreno

Last June, Playground Ideas completed our most ambitious build to date: seven play areas dotted throughout the grounds of Ruben Centre, a primary school for 2,000 kids in the Mukuru slum of Nairobi, Kenya.

Ruben primary students at morning assembly.

Ruben primary students at morning assembly.

With a population of over 600,000, the Mukuru community of Nairobi is one of Kenya's largest informal settlements. Ruben Centre is resource hub, offering education, health, financial and social programs to children and families in Mukuru.

Consultation

In the consultation phase of the project, we met with teachers and members of the administration to discuss their vision for the playground and to learn more about their school and surrounding community. Students showed us their unique games, took us on tours of their special spaces within the grounds, observed and discussed their peers at play, and drew pictures of their favorite free time activities. Several themes arose from these discussions:

  • Lack of spaces for play in Mukuru. One teacher who grew up in the settlement recalled a few empty spaces he played in as a child, but lamented that today the congestion of Mukuru has ballooned beyond capacity. The only open spaces left are unsafe, leaving many parents to confine their children’s free time indoors. Teachers described how the play yard at Ruben is the only open, safe space for children in the surrounding area.

Overcrowding in Mukuru leaves little room for play. Photo by All Nations Academy.

Overcrowding in Mukuru leaves little room for play. Photo by All Nations Academy.

  • Whole child education. Many of the parents of students are engaged in the centre’s on-site services – a micro-finance program, vocational training classes, a health clinic, and various micro-enterprises – modeling responsible practices for their children. Staff expressed their belief in the importance of Ruben students learning and practicing a wide variety of life skills to confidently navigate their futures.
  • Building a playful school. The staff were enthusiastic about using every available empty nook and cranny throughout the school grounds for play elements. Director Frank O’Shea’s orders were, “I don’t want a playground, I want this school to be an entirely playable space.”
  • Prevalence of imaginative play. Children described, modeled, and drew pretend play as families, shopkeepers, drivers, carpenters, musicians, “police & thieves,” soldiers, and animals. Imaginative play also included violent themes – police shooting thieves, playing with pretend guns, knives, bombs, etc. – likely, in some part, reflections of their processing of scenes they had witnessed themselves or heard about in their surrounding community.

A concept plan was developed for a series of seven play areas tucked throughout the school grounds that would allow for a variety of types of play and would create a movement flow throughout the school that could accommodate heavy use. Spaces were designed to celebrate and encourage the play culture already active within the space. Designs focused on facilitating imaginative, yet practical play, rooted in the real life surroundings of the student's lives and in the life skills the community was working to instill in these children. The design was drafted and presented to the Ruben staff. Then, over 3 bustling weeks in June, with the hard work of carpenters, welders, and masons from the Mukuru community and the Playground Ideas team, the concept plan came to life.

 

Design

1. Football Pitch

Football is the most popular sport at Ruben, particularly for the older students. We repaired the main goals on the existing field, and supplemented them with three moveable sets of pitches, enabling multiple games at once. Along the edges of the field, several loads of soil from a construction site had previously been dumped. The younger kids loved running up and down the soil mounds. We used a digger to sculpt and compact the soil into a smooth, hilly track: perfect for a challenging run, or a perch to watch the action below. Sixteen swings also rimmed the field.

 

2. Adventure Forest

One side of the main play field contained a grove of pine trees and heaps soil also leftover from construction. In one corner, the mason crew constructed a giant cement and tile slide, built into the soil mountain.

 

It soon became a human tidal wave:

 

Throughout the forest, we sculpted the soil and added elements to create an obstacle course inspiring balance, concentration, and risk management.

 

Culvert tunnels buried along the course allow for quiet nooks to escape from the action.

 

On a trip to a scrap metal shop while materials shopping, we spotted these steel poles, ideal for constructing a Geodesic Dome, a delightful addition to the course.

 

3. Kaskumu Court

The kids at Ruben play a game called “kaskumu,” similar to what North American kids call “hopscotch.” Four “kaskumu courts” were ground and painted on top of the school’s cemented sewage cap.

 

4. Peoples’ Village

During the consultation discussions, Duncan, a social studies teacher at the primary school, shared his idea to build a Kenyan “village” – a series of huts in various building styles, representing the major people groups throughout the country. During the build, Duncan and his students constructed the first hut of the series. He envisions the “village” to be a space where students can engage in hands-on learning about the diversity of local traditions in Kenya.

 

5. Kids’ Town

Adjacent to the village, we constructed a kid-sized "town," where students can take charge of the activities they see in Mukuru through imaginative play. The market stalls were built from recycled oil drums and painted by Ruben's resident artist, Chris.

 

A town wouldn't be complete without many modes of transportation.

 

A mud molding station lies next door, for making the “inventory” of the shops.

 

6. The Airplane

On the back of the school library, Chris painted a skyline, and the team constructed a giant seesaw airplane coming out of the sky, complete with moving wings, a steering wheel, and a propellor. Connected seesaws are a fun twist on the traditional structure as they can accommodate a multitude kids at once and produce a rolling wave affect movement.

 

See it in motion:

 

7. Sand Play

Near to the nursery classrooms, a giant sand pit was constructed, complete with a zebra print hiding nook and two friendly elephants.

 

Feedback

Two months after the build, Ruben staff conducted an internal survey about the playground. From the report:

“The head teacher acknowledges that the playground has added value to the school and the children generally love the new ground. Children have become very active both in classes and outdoors and their concentration in class has improved which she sighted is due to a fresh and relaxed mind. Also the playground is a motivation for kids to come to school, in fact it becomes very hard to get them out of school in the evenings after classes because they want to remain behind and play.”

“The playground has also made it easier for outdoor classes. For instance in mathematics whereby teachers use four way seesaw to demonstrate weighing and balancing concept to pupils or social studies where pupils can use the village section of the field to learn various cultural aspects of Kenyan communities.”

"There is a mutual feeling among the parents we involved in the research that they feel more secure knowing that their children are happy, safe, and enjoying themselves."

Many thanks to all who were involved in creating this beautiful, imaginative space for the Ruben kids to enjoy for years to come. To see more pictures of the Ruben playground project, view the facebook album. For free playground designs and resources related to this project, visit our new site, www.playgroundideas.org, and get building!

Ruben Centre – Nairobi, Kenya