You Won't Believe Who's Organizing Philly's First City-Wide Day of Play

You Won't Believe Who's Organizing Philly's First City-Wide Day of Play

John Converse Townsend's picture

Philadelphia will host its first city-wide day of play in the spring of 2015—organized not by city government but by 200 “play experts.” They will include young people who will design games while rallying teachers, mobilizing parents, teaming up with after-school program leaders, and encouraging their friends to take part.

Philadelphians young and old will enjoy activities like giant Boggle, analog “Dance, Dance Revolution,” facepainting, and water relays. They'll even be able to test their mettle in an obstacle course.

The festival is an initiative of Pop-up Play, a local youth serving organization funded by the Philadelphia-based family foundation Children Can Shape the Future. It will be Pop-up Play’s first playful learning event at a city level.

“People need to lead their own learning, and since people build learning on the basis of past experiences, we need to allow young people to take control,” said Jennifer Brevoort, one of Pop-up Play’s co-founders. “We’re in a more connected world, and need to come with solutions that function across different spaces.”

Brevoort and her partners, Rebecca Fabiano and Folasshade Laud-Hammond, have used public spaces as training grounds where children learn and develop agency and leadership skills since 2012. Pop-up Play presents young people—from kindergarteners to college students—with a vision and then steps out of the way, just as adult playworkers at adventure playgrounds keep on eye on kids but don't often intervene.

Although they’ve never done something at this scale, Brevoort is not worried about the execution. Pop-up Play has picked up support from local, like-minded programs, including the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory, a member of a network of more than 300 playful learning organizations brought together by the LEGO Foundation and Ashoka “Re-imagine Learning Challenge.”

Brevoort is also confident that the right people are in charge. Youth consistently report that they value the responsibility of bringing their vision to fruition. “It got real when people started showing up,” said a participating high schooler. “We just had to make it work.”

Pop-up Play enables teens to lead their peers, younger children, and adults through an intergenerational learning and community building process. The kids love it. They’re good at it. It’s evolutionary.

“Children are born with the instinct to take risks in play, because historically, learning to negotiate risk has been crucial to survival; in another era, they would have had to learn to run from some danger, defend themselves from others, be independent,” writes Hanna Rosin in her Atlantic feature, “The Overprotected Kid.”

“Even today, growing up is a process of managing fears and learning to arrive at sound decisions.”

The point is to challenge young people and have fun along the way. The hope is that they will walk away with a sense of accomplishment and, perhaps more important, the understanding that they can contribute to building a significant community—that they can be difference makers. And not just as learn-as-you-go playground builders, but people with the skill and will to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems.

“The urgency to create Pop-up Play came from us asserting that there is a universal way for people of all ages to build and discover empathy and engage with the world—and that was through play,” said Brevoort.

“Knowing that the world can change, we need to be comfortable with that.”