Play Everywhere: Making Play the Easy Choice

04/14/2015 03:10 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2015

(Animation created by Fortland Productions)

The well-being of society begins with the well-being of kids. That is why we've made it our bold goal at KaBOOM! to help give all kids the childhood they deserve, filled with balanced and active play, so they can thrive.

We know play has the power to transform kids - from sedentary to physically active, bored to mentally active, and solitary to socially active. Play can also transform communities by moving the needle on countless urban challenges. Yet America's kids today, especially those growing up in poverty, are playing less actively than any other generation. Why?

There are a number of structural factors - from declining recess and a lack of safe, accessible playspaces to overly-structured schedules and too much screen time - that keep kids from getting the play they need to build muscles, expand minds, and forge friendships. However, some other factors that are oftentimes overlooked are the everyday behavioral barriers that kids and families face when making the choice to play.

While 90% of parents and caregivers agree that playing outside is very important for their kids, this awareness does not always translate into action. One of the reasons this awareness-to-action gap may exist is because play is often not on the minds of parents and kids in the course of their daily lives. Unlike school or work, play is not a required activity, nor is it an activity with a pressing need to do, such as laundry or cooking dinner. In other words, it's easy to go through a daily routine without even thinking of play, even though parents may know it's important.

To generate innovative solutions to overcome these bottlenecks to play, we partnered with non-profit research firm ideas42 to conduct research that examined the relevant decision-making processes around play. This week, we teamed up with Band-Aid Brand and Neosporin Brand to discuss these findings as they launch their new "Play On" platform dedicated to helping families live more balanced, active and playful lives. Hanan Wajih, Senior Brand Manager at Band-Aid Brand and Neosporin Brand, and I exchanged our thoughts about overcoming everyday hurdles so we can help make the smart choice to play, the easy choice. Below are some highlights from that conversation.

Over the past 18 years, KaBOOM! has worked hard to address the structural barriers by working with partners to build, open and improve more than 16,000 playgrounds across the country that has served more than 7.4 million kids in need. We are very proud of this impactful work. Equally important, however, is finding solutions to bottlenecks related to driving behavior change around play.

As the experts in providing families with tools they need to be prepared for the mishaps that can happen when tackling everyday adventures, how do you think we could help provide the tools to help families overcome everyday barriers to play?

Hanan Wajih: At Band-Aid Brand and Neosporin Brand, we understand that the ability to play, create and discover is crucial to development during all stages of life. One of the findings in the ideas42 research that really resonated with me was that the decision-making process around play is surprisingly complex. The "tasks" associated with play, such as getting kids ready to go outside and bringing them to playgrounds, can feel overwhelming in the day-to-day shuffle of life. Play thrives within opportunities for spontaneity and may not always fit best within scheduled blocks of time, so it helps to turn everyday routines into opportunities for play. I've tried doing this with my own family, and it makes it seem like less of a "task." For example, we turn getting ready to go to the park into a scavenger hunt. I set a timer for 5 minutes and my kids race to gather all our essentials like snacks, jackets and first aid supplies, and it can turn out to be quite fun. What are some other ways that we can incorporate play into our everyday routines?

That's a great example. We need to put triggers in place to remind parents and children to play in every day places and situations. Cities can create these "moments of choice" by making play more visible and appealing. This means, refreshing our idea of routine through the lens of play. Every place in a daily routine--from sidewalks and bus stops to grocery stores and health clinics--could and should be reimagined into spaces and opportunities filled with play. These are places where families are already spending significant, often frustrating time together. By creating these opportunities for play everywhere, cities can help turn these moments of frustration into moments of play-filled joy, making it easier for families to prioritize play for their children. Cities can help foster those experiences by becoming more playable and family-friendly. As American Academy of Pediatrics past-President Dr. Bob Block's stated when it comes to creating positive experiences for kids, "Every moment counts."

Hanan Wajih: We couldn't agree more. And that's why we encourage parents to always be prepared with a first-aid kit, so you can quickly treat any minor cuts or scrapes and your kids can get right back to playing. But your research also discusses involving adults in play. How can we make playful moments count for both kids and adults?

On and off the playground, play is a great way to build strong bonds between adults and kids, which in turn helps kids to learn and grow. What we found was that if we want kids to play more, we need to create accessible places and opportunities for play that are also family-friendly and multi-generationally appealing. In other words, we need to make these moments count by making it easier for parents, caregivers and everyone in the family to play, too.

Hanan Wajih: As a parent, it definitely makes the choice easier to take our kids out to play when there's something for everyone in the family to look forward to. As the research suggested, getting parents and caregivers excited about their own play experience can boost the motivation of adults to take their kids to play for more frequent and longer periods of time. So by making the idea of incorporating play easier and more intrinsically appealing for everyone in the family, we can make play time and play space a priority in our everyday lives, no matter where we are.

From diapers to diplomas and beyond, play is the basic building block for a lifetime of health and happiness. By focusing on the idea of play everywhere, we can help make significant strides to reduce the barriers to play. Because when we make the smart choice the easy choice, we can help all kids thrive by giving them the play-filled childhood they deserve.