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Urban Thinkscape

Playful Learning Landscapes

Only twenty percent of a child’s waking time is spent inside of a classroom. To maximize the “other 80 percent of time” and augment the learning that takes place in school, Playful Learning Landscapes (PLL) aims to transform everyday places into fun, engaging learning opportunities that extend education into the public realm. This is especially important for children in low-income communities, as research shows that these children tend to lag behind their more affluent peers in language and spatial skills starting as early as age three.

By blending the sciences of learning with design, planning, and placemaking activities, PLL strives to advance and scale evidence-based approaches for creating vibrant public spaces that foster learning and caregiver interaction, bring people together, and generate a sense of community ownership and pride.

In 2019 the Brookings Institution established a joint venture between the Center for Universal Education and the Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking to address the challenge of designing family-friendly habitats that support healthy living. Working at the intersection of both centers, Brookings Fellow Helen Shwe Hadani is leading the initiative and bringing together an interdisciplinary group of scholars and practitioners including Project for Public Spaces, Temple University’s Infant and Child Lab, and Playful Learning Landscapes Action Network to transform everyday spaces into powerful learning opportunities for children and families.

Research has found significant improved outcomes for children, such as increased interaction between caregivers and children, including conversations around language, literacy, and STEM. Across multiple pilot installations and activities in Philadelphia and other cities, PLL is demonstrating the power of playful learning to boost quality caregiver-child interactions:

Urban Thinkscape infused a bus stop with learning by adding puzzles to a bench and transforming the childhood favorite hopscotch game into an executive function activity.
Supermarket Speak transformed a daily trip to the supermarket into a learning opportunity by adding simple signage (e.g., “Where does milk come from?”) to promote caregiver-child conversations.
Parkopolis enriched a public space with math and science learning opportunities by engaging children and their caregivers in a life-size board game where they roll “fraction dice” and move one and a half or two and three-quarter spaces around the board.
The Ultimate Block Party brought over 50,000 people together in Central Park to engage in research-based activities including make-believe, construction, and adventure games highlighting the link between play and learning.

The mission of PLL at Brookings is to build a network of key stakeholders across a wide range of geographies in response to the growing interest on PLL and advance the theory and practice of designing cities to support children’s learning.

Photo credit: Sahar Coston-Hardy 

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