Summer Blog Series
Play and Design #1
Making Space for Play
In 2015, my family was transferred to London. We packed up ourselves, our one-year-old, our two cats, and embarked on an adventure in a new city for six months. Knowing no one, and with little guidance on how to transition from full-time career to full-time caretaker, I started researching my options.
Luckily for us, London is a city designed for families. There are black cabs with seats that fold up so you can push a stroller straight inside, plentiful buses and trains with priority seating, rooms in all public buildings for changing and feeding, well-designed and maintained playgrounds within walking distance of most residents, and my favorite of all, children’s centers in every neighborhood.
At that time, the British government believed strongly in supporting not only children, but also their caregivers. The environment of the city reflected that belief and investment. Things were zoned for us, designed for us, and considered for us. Most playgrounds had cafes, for caffeine and snacks, and restrooms with baby changes in all gendered restrooms. The children’s centers had structured play times for all ages, and adult support groups with tea and information on children’s development. A key part of that development is play, but the key to great play is happy caregivers that allow it to happen.
Making space for play is not just about creating a place for play to happen. It is about making space within ourselves, giving time and energy, showing children love and support, and engaging with them in a way that allows play to flow freely. But that engagement cannot happen if that caregiver is not filled up themselves. You cannot pour from an empty cup. And far too many caregivers are down to their last drop.
Shortly after returning from London, I started a non-profit, Studio Ludo, with the mission of building better play through research, advocacy, and design. Our studies of play behavior span over 100 play environments in the US and UK and include data on the play habits of over 60,000 people. Our biggest finding is that more than half of people in playgrounds are not children…but teens, adults, and seniors. This resonates with us in a big way. How do we support and bring joy to this undesigned for half? How do we replicate the types of environments and experiences that I had as a caregiver, helping them to fill their cups and give them space to play?
We believe that everyone deserves a great place to play. And everyone means not just kids, but caregivers too. We design playgrounds with whole families in mind, with restrooms, and benches in the shade, and cafes, along with open-ended scaled-up swings and climbing structures that invite adults in on the fun.
We also know that play can happen anywhere, which is why we recently opened our loose parts play library, the Playbrary, overflowing with art supplies, toys, recyclables, cardboard, games, and other loose materials (think baskets of pez dispensers and rows of typewriters). Interspersed in the fun are comfy chairs, free coffee, and staff trained in play and development, happy to provide some adult conversation or play with your child while you rest.
While this may seem like a little slice of play utopia for the young people in your life, we believe it is essential for the grownups too. Caregivers deserve care. They are in the trenches, raising a generation on very little sleep and reheated coffee. Let’s make space for them. They are deserving of all the praise…and maybe a little play too.
About the Author: Meghan Talarowski is the Founder and Executive Director of Studio Ludo. Meghan believes that play environments in the United States can, and should, be better. She has degrees in architecture and landscape architecture, almost 20 years of experience in the design field, is a licensed landscape architect, and a certified playground safety inspector. Her research focuses on how the design of play environments impacts physical health and social behavior of children and caregivers. She has presented at TEDx Philadelphia, ASLA, AIA, IPA, the US Play Coalition, and Child in the City. She was a winner in the 2016 international Play Space design competition, a winner in the 2016 Kaboom Play Everywhere Challenge, and a finalist for two projects in the 2015 Knight Cities Challenge. She is a member of the steering committee for the US Play Coalition and a member of the board for Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse.
About the Summer PLAY Blog Series: This summer we are featuring some great PLAY resources with our 2022 Summer PLAY Blog Series, starring two invited play partners as our content experts; Liz McChesney and Meghan Talarowski. Our experts will be sharing blog posts with you throughout the months of July and August.