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.
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
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.