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imagination playground at bay area discovery museum & 92Y

April was a busy one for Imagination Playground Play Dates with block play happening on opposite ends of the US.

Joining our friends on the West Coast on April 19-20, the Imagination Playground team crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to charming Sausalito, home of the Bay Area Discovery Museum. As a fellow advocate of child-directed play the Museum has been long-running proponents of the blocks, having a set of their own as well as hosting the launch of Imagination Playground’s new Add-on Sets this past fall.

In the course of two days, over 200 children and adults joined in on the play sessions that were held in the Museum’s grounds outside. Recognized as the only children’s museum in a national park, the Bay Area Discovery Museum was a perfect fit for the first outdoor Imagination Playground Play Date of the season. Drawing inspiration from the unconfined space, children worked together to build the blocks into a system of catapults to creatively launch the smaller blocks in the set.


Meanwhile on the East Coast, the Imagination Playground Team returned on April 20th to the 92nd St Y in New York City. Families already familiar with the world-class nonprofit community and cultural center and it’s many offerings were quick to embrace the block play sessions that started early Saturday morning in the penthouse racquetball courts.

The first sessions saw a younger set of children ages 9 months to 5 years, with playful parents who helped in piecing together the blocks and loose parts to form a range of whimsical structures.

As the day continued the second and third play sessions brought older attendees, who wasted no time in building with the Imagination Playground blocks. Naturally breaking into small teams throughout different sections of the play space, the children worked together to create a variety of imaginative arrangements out of the blocks and loose parts.

Creations ranged from a house with furniture for visitors, to an elaborate suspension-style bridge that spanned across the racquetball court and allowed other children to run back and forth underneath, to a basketball hoop that propped against the high walls for successful dunking of the balls included in the Imagination Playground Classic Set, and a large firetruck complete with seats and a noodle hose to spray nearby parents!

In all the weekend was a great success for both coasts. A special thank you to both the Bay Area Discovery Museum and 92nd St Y teams for being such generous hosts of the Imagination Playground Play Date events.












Want to hear more about Imagination Playground Play Dates and stay in the know on upcoming events?
Email us at and join us on Facebook.

Also, stay tuned for more to come on Imagination Playground’s recent Play Date at Kohl Children’s Museum!

March2Work for safer routes to playspaces

March 22, 2013 in Community, Featured Posts, Newsletter, Phys Ed

by IP


From The Child in the City of Play lectures at MoMA  last year to our recent involvement with Louisiana Children’s Museum and Places to Play in New Orleans,  Imagination Playground has been thinking a lot about how environments can impact children’s growth and learning through play.

Early in the month Alex Smith at Playgroundology  tipped us off to a fantastic initiative called March2Work  that has been “campaigning for safer routes to playspaces.”

Courtesy of

Chris Gregory during March2Work, images courtesy of

The brainchild of Chris Gregory, March2Work came about through observations he noted  while on daily bicycle commutes through his town in the Isle of Man. As in many communities across the globe, the rise of busy dangerous roads had taken a toll on the levels of pedestrian and cyclist activity, especially for younger generations trying to get to school and play spaces.

Although often a common topic of discussion, Chris came up with a refreshingly innovative approach to raise awareness. Choosing to “travel to work throughout March using different forms of transport based on childhood games and activities,” Chris has been seen doing everything from skateboarding and walking on stilts to hoola-hooping and pretending to be an airplane. The best part? Anyone can join! He is often seen actively participating in each day’s unique travels with local school children, instilling the value of safe, outdoor play.

March2Work Compilation – courtesy of

Check out Chris’ chronicles of his daily adventures via video here: and his twitter updates here:

Even though March 22 marks the official March2Work day (and his final day of creative commutes), we know his “campaigning to give children of the Isle of man the freedom to play out” will certainly touch communities worldwide as they rethink the accessibility of their towns.

Imagination Playground play events popping up across the US

March 19, 2013 in Featured Posts, Museums, Newsletter, Play Events

by IP


February kicked off several Imagination Playground Playdates, on-going in select cities throughout the US. Starting with NYC’s 92nd Street Y on February 3rd, Imagination Playground participated in the Countdown to Camps event.


Our big blue blocks were out on the penthouse racquetball court. The clear open space and high white walls were a clean canvas for free play. Parents and children searching for a summer camp were invited to get a taste of the indoor and outdoor activities at 92Y Camp Yomi. Children delighted in building whimsical castles, forts, thrones, and cannons with the blocks. At the completion of the event, an Imagination Playground in a Cart set was donated to the 92nd Street Y.

On February 24th, Imagination Playground returned to the community center as special guests at the 92Y Bronfman Center’s Purim Carnival. Dressed in costume, children attending the event celebrated the Jewish holiday of Purim by hearing stories about the history. They also had the chance to build with the blocks and loose parts, using their imaginations to recreate their favorite parts of the story and constructing tunnels, temples, groggers and more.


Purim is commemorated with costumes, masquerades and carnivals.

Our Spring Playdates began on March 15th and 16th in a collaboration with Washington, D.C.’s National Building Museum. Over the course of two days, 140 parents, educators and children joined the unique Imagination Playground play sessions in the Museum’s educational rooms. The event space was directly across from the hugely popular PLAY WORK BUILD exhibit.

The playdates weren’t only for the children. Parents and educators were able to further learn about the benefits of free play, and connect with Imagination Playground President, David Krishock, and his team.

Continuing partnerships with area children’s museums and organizations, Imagination Playground is bringing block play to a neighborhood near you.

Here is where we are headed next:

Kohl Children’s Museum, Glenview, IL – March 21-23
Bay Area Discovery Museum, San Francisco CA  – April 19-20
92nd Street Y, New York NY  – April 20

We will also be participating in the following conferences:

10th Annual Young Child Expo & Conference 2013, New York, NY – April 19
Association of Children’s Museums Annual Conference 2013, Pittsburgh, PA – May 1-2


Want to know more about Imagination Playground Playdates and stay in the loop on upcoming events?

Email us at, and join us on Facebook.

the learning library at imagination playground

March 11, 2013 in Featured Posts, Newsletter

by IP



Parents know that play helps kids grow up happy and healthy. Academic and medical research has proven it. In Imagination Playground’s Learning Library you will gain access to studies and scholarly articles, written by some of the foremost authorities on childhood development that greatly support the need for more free, creative, and imaginative play.


From understanding what children are learning in play, to free play, block play studies, and more. Think of the Learning Library as your refresher course on play!

The following excerpt from Promoting Creativity For Life Using Open-Ended Materials by Walter Drew, EdD and Baji Rankin, EdD can be read in the free play studies section of the library.




Promoting Creativity For Life Using Open-Ended Materials

Walter Drew, EdD, Baji Rankin, EdD
Young Children Magazine July, 2004

Play and the creative arts in early childhood programs are essential ways children communicate, think, feel, and express themselves. Children will succeed developmentally when they have access to a variety of creative, free form play objects and are surrounded by adults who believe in the competence of children and are committed to their success in expressing themselves.

In this era of school performance standards and skill-based, outcome based education, it is more important than ever for educators and families to articulate the values and support the creativity of play and exploration as ways to meet and exceed these standards.

Read the whole article here >>

blocks: building childhood and culture

February 21, 2013 in Featured Posts, Museums, Newsletter, Teachers

by IP

In her article, Blocks: Building Childhood and Culture, Amy F. Ogata looks at the enduring presence of blocks not just as a toy, but as a catalyst for children’s learning and growth. From the history of blocks to their variations over the years, many of the designs mentioned in the article can be experienced at the National Building Museum in PLAY.WORK.BUILD. The exhibition that opened in partnership with Rockwell Group has already seen over 22,000 attendees since its opening last November. 

The following is part of “Play Work Build: Essays on Constructive Toys” available in print at the museum gift shop in Washington, DC

The block is perhaps the most enigmatic of all children’s toys. A symmetrical shape with six flat sides, the block has long been the basic unit of both building and learning. It has endured as a signifier of childhood over more than three centuries, making it not just a severe and blank geometrical form but also a rich and culturally complex object.

Young children are often given blocks to stimulate cognitive understanding and to develop spatial skills. The history of the block is closely tied to this association between building and learning through play. In the late seventeenth century, the English philosopher John Locke advised covering a set of large dice with folio-sized printed letters to enhance the pleasure of learning the alphabet. Locke’s insight became a fundamental and long-lasting method of teaching. Early learning theories also recognized that the physical shape of the block itself, rather than a set of applied images, could enable a child’s sense of discovery. Friedrich Froebel, the early nineteenth-century German founder of the Kindergarten, included the cube along with the sphere and the cylinder as the most basic shapes of his pedagogical system.


ABC Picture Blocks, Milton Bradley Co., 1889
National Building Museum, Architectural Toy Collection

Trained in the study of crystals, Froebel used geometry in progressively complex arrangements to enhance physical manipulation, instill abstract thinking, and as a means of grasping the interconnectedness of man and nature. The solid wooden cube was one of the key elements in his system of “Gifts” and “Occupations” (he did not use the term “toys”), the teaching objects that a trained teacher presented sequentially to children to teach self-awareness and knowledge through manipulation.

Froebel’s unpainted wooden objects were devised in opposition to the colorful stone-like architectural blocks and forms, such as the Anker Steinbaukasten, that were popular in nineteenth-century middle-class German households. The plain wooden or unornamented block thus embodied a strongly pedagogical ideal in contrast to the fashionable amusement. And in this more utilitarian form, the block outlived Froebel’s rigid scheme to become a touchstone of twentieth-century early childhood education.

The block occupied a central position in American nursery school programs where it gained a reputation as the fundamental ingredient of open-ended experimental play.

Designs for Architectural Models No. 4 ½, Richters, c. 1909
National Building Museum, Architectural Toy Collection

In the early years of the twentieth century, Caroline Pratt developed a variety of wooden shapes she called Unit Blocks, a series of geometrical forms devised on a cohesive scale. Pratt put the unpainted wooden blocks she had made at the center of her teaching, first at a settlement house and then at a private nursery school in New York City. Along with other influential teachers of the time, she embraced the idea that free play with blocks gave children the materials to explore and test their ideas, and to develop an experimental outlook. The plainness and abstraction of the block, she and others argued, enabled children to enact and modify—on their own scale and on their own terms—the experiences of their daily lives. Teachers also stressed the productive social values of self-confidence, cooperation, and respect for the work of others that block building often required. Other block forms, such as hollow or open blocks that were lightweight but larger in scale pushed the possibilities of dramatic and imaginative play further.

In the mid-twentieth century, wooden blocks expanded beyond the rarified context of experimental schools to become ubiquitous equipment for early childhood education including some primary grades. Furthermore, manufacturers embraced the expressive ideal of the block to create a variety of forms for different ages. Young babies were given colorful cloth blocks that could be grasped, chewed, and tossed without harm. For older children, LEGO, the Danish building system based on interlocking plastic bricks, gave the activity of block-like building new appeal. Lightweight, portable, and infinitely expandable, LEGO bricks required deft manipulation and met the needs of young builders who were able to design and realize their fanciful visions. The legacy of block play that had begun in a much different era depended on the geometrical character of the block, but increasingly blocks were tied to the belief that open- ended play might produce a more thoughtful, cooperative, and curious person.

Today, the block persists as a motif of play for children and adults in the digital world. LEGO and MIT have developed software and hardware to create programmable bricks that animate creations assembled with LEGO. In the computer game Minecraft the basic square of the pixel is rendered as three- dimensional textured cubes of grass sod, diamond, lapis, wool, and many other materials to which one might apply a magical electrified material called “redstone” to engineer moving parts with the virtual blocks. The free creation of buildings, landscapes, machines, and even sound-scapes (with “note blocks”) extend
the same experimental culture of wooden blocks into the twenty-first century and well beyond the nursery school or public playground.

The flexibility of the block is part of its enduring appeal. Its sharp stackable forms are at once comfortingly familiar and infinitely abstract and mysterious. Although the block may seem to embody strict geometry, it is precisely this quality that enables expressive design. There is no doubt that the block is strongly romanticized as perhaps the most fundamental element of children’s play and a means to explore principles of balancing and building, as well as good citizenship and imagination. In this discourse, the block embodies the child’s own potential. Yet access to blocks is far from universal and even rarer is the time set aside to ponder, experiment, and design. It is worth remembering that the Dutch scholar Johan Huizinga theorized play as a key dimension of human culture. Playing with blocks may offer not only the production of culture on a small scale, but also the foundation for much larger contributions to our world.


Amy F. Ogata is Associate Professor at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City. She is the author of a book on Belgian Art Nouveau and many articles on modern architecture and design. Her forthcoming book, Designing the Creative Child: Playthings and Places in Midcentury America, published by the University of Minnesota Press will appear in Spring 2013.

Imagination Playground at the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans

From Thursday, January 31st – Saturday, February 2nd, Imagination Playground joined Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans  for several play events leading up to Super Bowl XLVII. The Museum’s campaign Places to Play explores the role of play in developing lifelong healthy habits for the city’s youngest residents, as well as combining play education with access to safe, creative play spaces.

During Thursday’s launch, the Louisiana Children’s Museum introduced their first Imagination Playground to the local New Orleans community. Children invited from Kingsley House Head Start and Early Head Start Preschool and Abeona House Child Discovery Center were eager to build with the new Imagination Playground blocks.


Showing their support, Dr. Karen DeSalvo (commissioner of New Orleans Health Department) and Laverne Saulny (Regional Manager for US Senator Mary Landrieu) were in attendance and spoke at a press conference during the event. The Imagination Playground and Rockwell Group team also led three Play Associate training sessions, walking through various dimensions of block play and child-directed free play, and preparing the Louisiana Children’s Museum team for many more successful play sessions to come.

Friday was another full day of active play at LCM. Staff tested their new skills as Play Associates, facilitating play as young visitors built furniture, buildings, a bus (complete with noodle seat belts!), curved pathways, and more with the blocks and loose parts.

The week’s events concluded in the “New Orleans Super Saturday of Service”, a co-sponsored event between the Louisiana Children’s Museum, Fit NOLA, the White House’s Let’s Move!, and NFL Play 60.  Promoting play in building healthy communities, the day provided improvements and renovations to five of the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission’s playgrounds. Imagination Playground was at the Lyons Field location, one of the five play spaces restored by the initiative. During an unveiling ceremony with Dr. Karen DeSalvo and council member LaToya Cantrell’s representative Mason Harrison, Imagination Playground and Louisiana Children’s Museum donated a second play set to the city for public use. As soon as the blocks were unpacked, families and children were quick to begin the fun, having a blast while building a variety of imaginative structures.

In speaking about Places to Play, Julia Bland CEO of the LCM, explained “We recognize that childhood obesity will not be eliminated until children and families are aware of their health habits and can turn that awareness into behavioral changes with daily exercise and activity – as individuals or as a family. Offering our four-year-olds a chance to share their ‘play places,’ and documenting the experience through their artwork, stories and photography, will help increase awareness and active lifestyles.”

To read more on the Louisiana Children’s Museum’s Places to Play in New Orleans initiative, visit the Let’s Move! blog >>

Susan G. Solomon talks about Play and Parenting

In her article, Play and Parenting, Susan G. Solomon explores the sometimes divided methods of contemporary parenting plus delves into the history of child-directed, loose-parts play.

The following is part of “Play Work Build: Essays on Constructive Toys”, edited by Rockwell Group in partnership with The National Building Museum and available in print at the museum gift shop in Washington, DC

The editors of European Early Childhood Education Research Journal recently asked if adults perceive children as vulnerable or competent.i   Do our actions communicate to children that they need constant protection or that they can make age- appropriate decisions over how they live their daily lives? This is a critical question; it is a query that underlies contemporary parenting and, as a consequence, finds its way into public policy of health and recreation.

All around us, we see examples of how these two visions compete. Raising children today is complicated. We want to be responsible yet liberating. We have to straddle a thin line while we confront incidents as mundane as allowing youngsters to cross a street or as life-altering as sending a child off to college. Overwhelmed by the pressure to prepare our children to succeed from an early age, and by media coverage that surrounds us with grim stories about accidents and abductions, we frequently see no choice but to be vigilant.

We walk or drive eight and nine-year-olds to school instead of letting them practice crossing a street carefully on their own.

Matador No. 1, Korbuly, 1932
National Building Museum, Architectural Toy Collection

We direct our children’s activities on the playground instead of leaving them to their own devices (“Let’s play hide and seek” or “Climb up the ladder…now slide down!”).  We manage our children’s daily lives, enriching them with activities we see as worthwhile or stepping in to assist in their every endeavor. When nothing is planned, we sign them up for organized activities and schedule play dates. Will they miss a developmental opportunity if we don’t expose them at the right time? Are we worried that they won’t get the most out of their free time? We have all heard stories of the proverbial “helicopter parents,” who don’t know how to hold back when their kids enter college or apply for their first full time job. Why does this happen? Aren’t these young adults capable of choosing the right courses or knowing how to convince an employer of their value? Are we afraid they won’t bounce back if they make mistakes or fail?

Much has been written about how—and even why—we have felt compelled to insert ourselves into our children’s activities. Parents have been particularly susceptible to micromanaging their kids during times of economic and social upheaval.ii  This is true today when we have so many uncertainties but still have one power: the ability to impose order on the habits of our own children. It is difficult to relinquish our authority and to view our youngsters as individuals who can mature on their own; learn critical life skills from their own experience; and become responsible citizens through their own actions.

Kids internalize their perceived vulnerability. When adults shelter them from every risk or difficulty, they don’t learn how to stay alert to potential dangers or how to react when something is off; they are unsure of how to make wise decisions. Take today’s highly standardized playgrounds for instance. These post-and-platform structures attempt to design every risk and fall out of play. Danish landscape architect Helle Nebelong writes and lectures about how the regularity of most playground equipment lulls children into thinking that every rung or step will be a uniform distance or height. Kids acquire important coping skills to tackle irregular situations by navigating open- ended experiences. This isn’t limited to issues of physical safety. Through encountering unstructured and unpredictable situations, children learn to think for themselves, to address problems on their own, and to adapt to the unfamiliar.

Nebelong believes that mid-twentieth-century Danish examples of play environments, which permitted children to work with surplus materials and objects (“loose parts”) and to use real tools, helped forge her own passion for playgrounds in which there are no set ways to do anything.iii  These older outdoor spaces were called Adventure Playgrounds. Children would decide what they wanted to build and how to build it, using hammers and nails to construct their own structures and spaces. These playgrounds, which had excellent safety records, gave children the opportunity to direct themselves and take control of their surroundings.

Log Camp Building Set No. 2, Roy Toy, c. 1935
National Building Museum, Architectural Toy Collection

Constructive play opportunities like those found in Adventure Playgrounds supply children with tools to fulfill their ideas and encourage them to be independent. They require children to self-motivate and set their own agenda. Prior to the advent of Adventure Playgrounds, early 20th-century construction toy systems gave children an outlet for imaginative play. Children would typically play with these sets (Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs and Erector Sets) for many hours, and they were considered both fun and educational. Today, children still love to play unsupervised with these kinds of toys and their contemporary spin-offs for long stretches of time. This kind of play gives them the freedom to act according to their own invented rules. It shows them that they not only are competent but also can accomplish their own goals in their own time.

How can we expand on the meaning of construction toys and find other ways to support young people’s growth? It is time for us to consider a new point of view in order to help our children. Perhaps there is a way we can harness our fears and put them into perspective, or channel our enthusiasm in a way that enables our children to benefit. Each time we move to protect or direct them, we might ask if there were another way. We can look for a path in which we can stand back and let the kids take charge of their own world, so we can demonstrate our faith in their abilities. When we initiate this way of thinking, we empower kids. We also permit ourselves to find joy in the competencies of our offspring.


Susan G. Solomon is the author of American Playgrounds: Revitalizing Community Space (University Press of New England, 2005). She is currently writing a follow-up book, The Science of Play: How Playgrounds Might Aid Child Development, which will appear in 2014. Solomon received a Ph.D. in architectural history from the University of Pennsylvania in 1997. She lectures and writes widely and heads her own consulting firm, Curatorial Resources & Research in Princeton, NJ.

i Tim Waller, Ellen Beate H. Sandseter, Shirley Wyver, Eva Arlemalm- Hagser, Trisha Maynard, “The Dynamics of Early Childhood Spaces: Opportunities for Outdoor Play?” (2010, editorial), European Early Childhood Education Research Journal 18:4, 437-443.

ii Judith Warner, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety
(New York: Riverhead Books, 2005)

iii Helle Nebelong, interview with author, December 12, 2011, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Blocks at Their Best

January 9, 2013 in Community, Featured Posts, Newsletter, Parents

by IP

The Imagination Playground community thrives on first hand experiences in play and learning. We love to receive stories & pictures, hearing the latest on what your children have been up to with the blocks and loose parts!

What types of structures have you witnessed being built lately? Do your kids have a particular block shape or two that are their favorites? Are you perhaps a teacher or educator and have been using Imagination Playground as a learning tool in the classroom?

Share your thoughts & let us know your story via, Facebook/Twitter/Instagram or in the comments below.

Also stay tuned as we will continue to bring helpful tips, stories, guest blog spots, and even a contest (or two!) to enhance your children’s  block play experience & get the most out of your Imagination Playground.

where in the world is imagination playground?

December 13, 2012 in Newsletter, United States

by IP

It’s been two years since Imagination Playground celebrated the flagship opening of Burling Slip in lower Manhattan. The Blocks have met many children since then – jumping across the pond with Imagination Playground in a Cart, and even traveling as far as Hong Kong and Doha. Imagination Playground and KaBOOM! have deployed over 700 playgrounds to date, spreading free play and creativity throughout parks, schools, daycares, and children’s museums across the globe. The playground has popped up in over 160 schools, 55 museums, and over 70 community and youth organizations.

We can’t wait to reach more communities in 2013 with our new Add-on Block Sets and events hosted across the country. Where would you like to see Imagination Playground next?

Opening of National Building Museum’s PLAY.WORK.BUILD.

December 5, 2012 in Museums, Newsletter, Play Events, United States

by IP

Since its opening almost three weeks ago, PLAY WORK BUILD has been a success among adults and children alike. The National Building Museum teamed up with Imagination Playground to showcase the Museum’s unique Architectural Toy Collection alongside hands-on block play. The family-friendly exhibition invites visitors of all ages to nurture their inner architect skills through Rockwell Group’s specially designed Imagination Playground installation and an original digital interactive.

Students from D.C.’s Two Rivers Public Charter School delighted in building mini constructions, collaborating together on the Imagination Playground 3-D wall, and knocking virtual blocks down. The school has been a great supporter of Imagination Playground since receiving its Imagination Playground in a Box courtesy of a grant from KaBOOM! in 2009. Two Rivers educator, Kathleen Kennedy told USA Today, “There are no steps here. … When you’re playing a computer game, there’s an answer, but with blocks you have to figure it out as you go along.”

Students from the Two Rivers Public Charter School play with Imagination Playground blocks and the digital block wall in the National Building Museum’s exhibition PLAY WORK BUILD. Photos by Kevin Allen.

Check out what others have to say about the exhibition…

Play Work Build chronicles the history of active play in the most appropriate way possible: by asking visitors to actually play the games. –Fast Company’s Co.Design

Collaborative activity, physical movement, and no resemblance to a typical playground are the three major themes of this endeavor, whether it be on a big a scale as the one at the Building Museum or the portable version of these blocks made for schools and camps. –Curbed DC

PLAY WORK BUILD is both an extension and an elaboration on one of the museum’s primary missions, to introduce children to the building process. The second-floor gallery is now overrun by thousands of pieces of blue foam, some sized for building models and some sized to build forts. –The Washington Post On Parenting

Play Work Build will be open at the National Building Museum through 2014, so stop by and experience it for yourself! Do you have some excellent images of your block building day? Don’t forget to share your photos with the National Building Museum and Imagination Playground on Twitter and Instagram by hashtagging #blocktastic  – we would love to hear from you.