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Unleash Potential through Playground Design, Prototyping and Bulding

Imagine a fleet of (K-12/univ) youth swarming onto an empty field in the middle of city X, town Y or neighborhood Z. A week later, a brand new playground sits that was uniquely designed and built by them, their families and their community.

Photo of Luciano Oviedo
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The proposed idea is to launch a Playground Design Challenge for K-12/univ youth. At a high level, three general phases are conceived: Phase 1 - includes researching and designing it; Phase 2 - includes acquiring resources and planning; Phase 3 - including organizing volunteers and actually building it. An open "Playground Design Collaboration Platform" would serve as the means by which students from many different locations would learn from and interact with existing or previous students, classes, schools (ie, projects) to motivate and assist them with their respective effort.

Phase 1 could serve as a stand-alone mini-challenge where a class or school would go through the process of designing and prototyping a playground for their community . It could include rethinking and creating new spaces, processes and structures by which students learn and interact as part of their education at that particular school. For example: Non-traditional mentoring could be included such as high school students could mentor middle school students and middle school students could mentor elementary school students.   Teachers and Administrators could dedicate open design spaces sprinkled around the campus. They could also  video the entire experience and create a video documentary that includes students thoughts and feelings on their creativity and confidence as they went from begin to end. Students would build prototypes of their ideas and hold ad hoc jam sessions with other students on how to improve or evolve their ideas further. Judges and Sponsors could be recruited from local non-profits or businesses as a means to promote interaction and collaboration.  This could conclude with a Playground Design Fair where students would compete for prizes on criteria such as the most creative in a particular educational theme (art, math, science, history, etc).  Prizes could include from mini-scholarships for supplies to educational games to dining and movies. The designs and prototypes from the entire process could be displayed on a school website or on the  "Playground Design Collaboration Platform".

Phase 2 and 3 could serve as extensions for classes and schools that have mastered Phase 1. In these phases, students would  learn  how to partner and collaborate with fellow students, teachers, parents, sponsors, etc. to scope out a program and identify which and how much resources are required to achieve it. They would learn how to make the money, do fundraising or gain donations to pay for it. They would learn how to plan and organize volunteers to get it completed. In summary, they would literally earn the playground. In this scenario, the stakes are higher but so are the rewards; prizes could include scholarships and internships or more importantly, the life-long satisfaction of a real-life playground that includes their design and/or that was built by them.

As context, the inspiration for this “approach” comes from Leathers & Associates (; where I previously served as the volunteer program manager for Santa Fe, New Mexico’s first community designed and built playground.

In this challenge, we want to create ideas with young people, not for them. Outline how you’re planning to involve young people or other end-users (parents, teachers, etc) in designing, iterating or testing your idea during the Ideas phase.

Status update - I've engaged a 4th grade class teacher at a local public school and presented a proposal to run a prototype for Phase 1 in her class from Nov to Dec. She has agreed and we are to begin next week! The goal is to learn whether this is compelling or not, what does/doesnt work and how might a next evolution take place. Therefore, my tentative plan for Nov – Dec: - Proposal / Approval by Teacher - Introduce Assignment/Project to Class - Research and Visit Playgrounds - Brainstorm Ideas and Themes - Develop Ideas and Themes - Build Models and Prototypes - mini “Playground Design Fair” with Judges and Prizes

How might you envision your idea spreading across geographies or cultures so that it inspires young people around the world to cultivate their creative confidence?

Phase 1 "prototype" Projects could be launched by any teacher in any geography who is interested in exploring the idea of incorporating a youth-designed community playground into the classroom. They can learn from the Phase 1 process and share key learning's and results via "Playground Design Collaboration Platform" which includes a global network of students, classes and schools. Phase 2-3 Projects could be launched after Phase 1 has been mastered.

What skills, input or guidance would you like to receive from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

Open Questions: 1. Should we assign a certain playground item (ie, slide) to the students or should we let them decide? 2. Should we assign a theme (ie, art, science, math, history, etc) to the designs or let them decide? 3. Should we make this individual or team projects? 4. How much time should be spent on research vs. ideas vs. prototyping? Should it be an in-class or independent activity? 5. What should the criteria be for judging? Who should the judges be? And, what are appropriate prizes for this "prototype" phase?


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Photo of Meena Kadri

Great stuff, Luciano – and your experiences with Santa Fe sound cool. I wonder if there could be a lightweight way of prototyping and testing some assumptions around your idea. For example... we saw a working prototype from a school earlier in our Ideas phase: Have folks here got any thoughts about a small prototype on Luciano's awesome idea from which it could be iterated and grow?

Photo of Luciano Oviedo

Thanks, Meena. Good idea - I'll meditate on this and expand on where prototyping examples might make sense such as splitting up idea into Design phase and Build phase; ie, so that in the Design phase, the students can explore building prototypes on a certain section of the playground perhaps around certain themes for a respective class (literature, math, science, etc). From here, there are many possibilities such as incorporating contests w/in their school or across schools (regional, state, national, etc per Laure's recommendation).

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