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Developing Early Engineering Skills Through Creative Play

Imagination Playground™ will be provided to early childhood educators as a creative play solution to foster early engineering behavior.

Photo of David Flanigan
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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Based on feedback from our mentor, we went back and made several enhancements to our original submission. This included a greater emphasis on our focus of serving kids from low income families, adding an in person training component and narrowing the geographic focus so we can work with organizations in the same general area. This will allow for the training to be in a central place for the recipients of our play product and will also support sharing of ideas and experiences more readily among the recipients.

Name or Organization

KaBOOM!

Geography

We are based in Washington DC, but will implement the idea in a select region within the US.

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD

Type

  • Non-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

There is a lack of innovative hands-on play occurring within early learning environments especially within low-income communities. Employers and educators agree that the future viability of the US economy is highly contingent on successful young innovators who are highly skilled in the STEM disciplines. Imagination Playground™ will provide a creative play solution that is easily deployed to under-resourced communities to engage young children in a form of innovative block play that encourages critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity skills, and fosters early STEM learning.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Product: A new or enhanced physical product that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Play is critical to a child's physical, emotional, and cognitive development, but too many young children lack access or opportunities to play. For young children in low-income communities, Imagination Playground™ provides an innovative, engaging way to grow up healthy, resilient and ready for life. This signature creative play system empowers children to use their own imaginations to build the playspaces of their dreams. Using a loose-parts collection of big blue blocks, young children build and rebuild play structures with no limits to their creativity building those earliest engineering behaviors and skills. This type of activity helps teachers, caregivers and children have fun and healthy experiences together through creative play that is physically challenging and collaborative, fulfilling the needs of the whole child. This is further substantiated by a 2012 research study conducted by Purdue. The full report can be found at https://goo.gl/SvHc8x Imagination Playground™ will support the development of the early engineering skills and behaviors that are fundamental building blocks to STEM learning for children across the US as they prepare for entry into primary and secondary school and ultimately the workforce.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Across the US, there are limited STEM related resources and training for early education practitioners, especially those serving low-income communities. As a consequence, there is inadequate focus on providing early STEM experiences for young children. Development of these skills and behaviors are critical for the long term development of the young child.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

As global competition increases, it is imperative that young children develop a skill-set relevant to today's workforce and are prepared to approach challenges with creative solutions to successfully navigate our complex, ever-changing world. Critical thinking and collaboration are integral to the jobs of the future, and balanced and active play helps to develop these 21st century skills. As young children go through rapid brain development, it is imperative that they are exposed to playful experiences that foster a sense of curiosity, wonder and excitement. Learning and developing through creative play is an innovative and unique opportunity for young children to understand the world around them through hands on, play filled experiences. One study suggests play with blocks, clay, sand and other materials encourages children to develop logic. They begin to learn scientific concepts like cause and effect and they practice strategies for solving problems. “This practice of experimentation, observation, comparison forms the basis for understanding math and science.” (Ginsberg, Inoue & Seo, 1999; Ginsberg 2006) In one regional area, and in coordination with select early childhood providers, KaBOOM! will implement and execute a program using our Creative Play learning product, Imagination Playground™ to enable young children to participate in activities that lead to curiosity and learning and foster early engineering behaviors through play, as well as help to engage parents in playful interactions with their young children with a goal of fostering similar interactions in the home. KaBOOM! will lead an in-person training for practitioners receiving the Imagination Playground helping them to develop a programming plan, and to brainstorm, collaborate and learn from one another. Prior to selecting up to ten recipients of the Imagination Playground™ for the program, KaBOOM! will require a formal application from eligible early education providers. KaBOOM! will facilitate an application webinar that will provide information on how to apply for consideration, what makes a compelling application, and what the expectations are if selected. We will screen all applications and prioritize finalists using the following criteria: - Organization serves young children (ages 0 – 3) from low income families (80% below city/area median income) - Organization has a proven track record of implementing high quality programs aimed at student success - Dedicated staff have the capacity to facilitate the use of Imagination Playground™ based on previous program implementation - Compelling need and strong case for how Imagination Playground™ will be used to support early engineering skills development in young children - Staff are able to attend Play Associate Training facilitated by KaBOOM! - Ability to observe and document children’s behavior and learning while playing and provide data for three and 12 month reports. Once the organizations have been selected, an in-person Play Associate training will be facilitated by KaBOOM! staff. Play Associates are trained adults who enable a setting in which children can direct their own play. They allow play activity to evolve naturally by maintaining a safe and secure environment, and by renewing and varying the supply of loose parts. Our goal at KaBOOM! is to continually provide resources for our Play Associates so that they can provide the fullest, richest play opportunities possible. This includes using Imagination Playground™ to encourage early engineering behaviors in young children and encouraging parents to promote unstructured play in the home. In order to ensure the program is successful, adds value and is effective in achieving established outcomes, we will have the following touchpoints with the staff/teachers who are recipients of the Imagination Playground™: • Webinar for prospective applicants • Provide lesson plans and an Imagination Playground™ observation guide • In-person training inclusive of parents, educators and volunteers • Check-in two weeks after receiving the Imagination Playground™ • Monthly check-ins on programming implementation • On call technical assistance • Check-in three months after receiving the Imagination Playground™ • Check-in 12 months after receiving the Imagination Playground™ The intended outcomes of the program include 1. Increase in observations of early engineering behaviors 3. Increase in observations of problem solving 4. Increase in observations of cooperative play 5. Increase in playful parental engagement Through surveys and interviews of the teachers and staff who facilitate the use of the Imagination Playground™, we will receive qualitative and quantitative data that will indicate as to whether or not the outcomes of the program have been achieved.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Approximately 1000 children will benefit annually within low-income communities, as defined by 70% of children/students qualifying for FRPL and/or the population served has a median household income at or below 80% of the city or county median household income. These children will develop strong skills in creativity, communication and collaboration, as well as physically challenge themselves in a safe environment. They will develop language, communication and problem solving skills that are key to cognitive development, as well as increasing their cooperation and self-regulation skills. They will also benefit through relationships and other elements crucial to social-emotional development. Teachers and childcare professionals will also benefit through professional development opportunities and trainings. Caregivers, families and community members will benefit through opportunities to learn from and be involved in innovative, creative free play with young children, and then replicate those behaviors at home. Since 2010, we have granted 437 sets of Imagination Playground™ to organizations across the US, including early childhood education centers.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

In 2012, Purdue University led a research project to investigate the impact of large-scale block play on the behavior of young children, including those within a Head Start program. It was found that as compared to dramatic play and playground play, young children utilizing Imagination Playground™ displayed significantly more early engineering play, large muscle movement, constructive play, and parallel play. Imagination Playground™ was unique in facilitating experiences that include high levels of body movement and an opportunity to engage in and understand construction and the basic engineering design process. Therefore, we anticipate that through this program, low-income children served will increase their early engineering and constructive play, leading to improvements in critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity, as well as an improvement in early STEM skills. This will better prepare them for primary and secondary school and ultimately the workforce. Please see below for a testimonial from a recent Imagination Playground recipient on the impact they have experienced: "Counting and math is incorporated into play time with the young children. The young children are more engaged in counting the Imagination Playground pieces and in turn are retaining more of the lesson. The center's children have been able to achieve a higher early education because of the introduction of the Imagination Playground." - Armed Services YMCA at Camp Pendleton

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

KaBOOM! has always been focused on serving low-income children across the US. This program will focus on providing Imagination Playground™ to low-income children. Children growing up in low-income families often do not have access to quality play opportunities at home, in school or in child care facilities. In addition, these children experience toxic levels of stress that are detrimental to the developing brain. This stunted development has serious consequences as young children grow and develop. Toxic stress limits the ability to learn new skills, interact with others, and think critically. Creative play opportunities in both early childcare settings and in the home can help mitigate the high levels of stress that low income children face on a daily basis. Lowering stress levels helps support the early learning and discovery that young children need as their brains grow and develop. Through this program, parents who may not believe they have the resources for their children to play, will discover that play can happen with or without toys. Play can come in the form of discovery of new objects, playful movements and acting out stories in creative ways. Talitha Koum Institute, a past grantee noted, "Our parents are from deep poverty and never had imaginative play materials in their own upbringing. They ask, "What do those do?" "What is it supposed to be?" Those questions allow us to teach parents the vital importance of open-ended, free play..."

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Imagination Playground™ provides an innovative play opportunity that can be instantly activated anywhere, anytime. We’ve provided Imagination Playground™ to schools, community centers, museums, public parks, street fairs, and even office settings. We are excited to expand the use of this unique creative play opportunity to early childhood providers. The open ended, child directed, playful learning that the Imagination Playground™ offers will give educators a high quality resource that can enrich the experience of the developing child. Benefits of Imagination Playground™ • Allows young children to develop strong skills in creativity, communication and collaboration, as well as physically challenge themselves in a safe environment • Allows children to develop language, communication and problem solving skills that are key to cognitive development • Promotes cooperation, self-regulation, the development of social relationships and other elements crucial to social-emotional development • Is an easily customizable system that instantly activates small and non-traditional spaces into a great place to play • Can be added to existing playgrounds to provide more holistic opportunities for play • Provides professional development opportunities for teachers and childcare professionals with specialized Play Associate training • Engages families and community members to become involved in their children’s play activities

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

In order to reach the maximum number of end users, KaBOOM! will initiate outreach to prospective early childhood education centers which meet the KaBOOM! criteria for eligibility. Our focus will primarily be on low-income neighborhoods which do not have access to play products, and serve high numbers of young children. Outreach for candidates includes partnering with organizations such as NAEYC and Child Care Aware, non-profit organizations and Community Partners with whom KaBOOM! has a relationship established. Once the Imagination Playgrounds™ are delivered, KaBOOM! will engage with local media including print, web and broadcast to highlight the program and the benefits of creative and free play. We will provide communications tools to support local unveiling/ribbon cutting events, to include sample media advisory, VIP invitation and social media posts; showcase selected images from unveiling events via social media; curate stories of impact that can be shared socially. Additionally, a unique component of Imagination Playground is its portability. Grantees can easily transport the product onsite and offsite utilizing it for events, and sharing it with others so the impact can scaled within one community. Given our past success with deployment of the Imagination Playground, we are well positioned to scale this program, reaching 500 young children per Imagination Playground™ deployment. The biggest hurdle will be securing the necessary funding for a national program.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

KaBOOM! has extensive experience with deploying the Imagination Playground™ to communities across the US in an effort to provide a unique play experience to children who would not otherwise have access to it. Over the last eight years, we have made continuous improvements to the recipient selection process, training resources, technical assistance, and evaluation. We have dedicated staff to support all aspects of this program. Through surveys and interviews, parents, families, teachers, children and community members have shared how the Imagination Playground™ has impacted young children learning and development. This includes how children play with their peers, problem solve and learn from mistakes. This play system has also increased interest from the children who have not interacted with their peers. Having a non-traditional learning tool like Imagination Playground™ adds a playful element to the learning environment. In 2016-2017, we gathered survey responses from 36 organizations that received an Imagination Playground™ through our creative play grant programs. These results are based on three months of engagement with the Imagination Playground™. These observed behaviors are key components of a strong early engineering learning environment. 97% reported increase collaboration 94% reported increase problem solving 91% reported increase engagement in play 80% reported increase time at play 71% report increase attention during non-play hours 79% report increase gross motor development 97% report increase creative and imaginative play 83% report increase stress reduction

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

Based on our past success with securing funding to grant over 450 Imagination Playground™ sets over the last 10 years, we are very confident that our business model is extremely viable and fund-able. In addition, the focus on early childhood education will further add value to the business model. Our previous Imagination Playground™ programs did not have a focused audience, other than youth serving nonprofits that serve kids from low income families. While we were successful in getting those programs funded, we see a greater growth potential in early childhood education funding. Our learning through play approach is also unique and we have a proven track record of success. The Purdue research that was cited earlier is also an asset that further substantiates the value that Imagination Playground™ provides to the developing child and the fostering of parent child relationships.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

Through surveys and interviews, parents, families, teachers, children and community members have shared how the Imagination Playground™ has impacted young children learning and development. This includes how children play with their peers, problem solve and learn from mistakes. This play system has also increased interest from the children who have not interacted with their peers. Having a non-traditional learning tool like Imagination Playground™ adds a playful element to the learning environment. In 2016-2017, we gathered survey responses from 36 organizations that received an Imagination Playground™ through our creative play grant programs. These results are based on three months of engagement with the Imagination Playground™. These observed behaviors are key components of a strong early engineering learning environment. 97% reported increase collaboration 94% reported increase problem solving 91% reported increase engagement in play 80% reported increase time at play 71% report increase attention during non-play hours 79% report increase gross motor development 97% report increase creative and imaginative play 83% report increase stress reduction In addition, the Purdue Research Study: Children's Social Competence, Physical Activity, and Early Engineering Thinking in the Imagination Playground™, Traditional Playground, and Dramatic Play Area, provided us with the quantitative and qualitative data that we needed to develop our idea. In essence, the research is being put into practical use through the idea of developing early engineering skills through creative play. Here are additional testimonials from our past Imagination Playground™ recipients: "Staff has found the imagination playground as a great tool to promote team building skills. Due to the quantity and side all children are able to participate during the activity." - Senior Manager of Programs, Martha’s Village and Kitchen "One of the students in the preschool class has demonstrated an increase of vocabulary by using the Imagination Playground. She is using words such as building, bridges, mansion and is able to identify the structures heights by comparing one from another." - Rosa E. Torres, Senior Manager of Programs, Martha's Village & Kitchen "Recently, it has been our Pre-K class of four-year-olds who have taken to building a new kitchen each day. Because they live under food scarcity at home without regular meals, they are hyper aware around food issues. Being able to construct their own kitchen (which can look like a battleship) gives them a sense of control over food fears. They build a kitchen, cook meals, serve meals, and sense possibilities." - Susan Cowley, Executive Director, Talitha Koum Institute "A two year old child with Down's Syndrome approaches the large blue blocks. She bends down and pats the block with her hand. she then rubs it, smells it, and gentle tries to pick it up. The block slips from her hands and she chuckles. She tries again and this time wraps her arms tightly around the block. A wide smile crosses her face as she squeals in delight. She toddles toward her teacher and shows her the big block. The child proudly bends down, releases the block and confidently turns to bring another big block to her teacher. With this simple act with this extraordinary material, the child builds her capacity for exploring, examining, sequential thinking, body motor planning, emotional connections with others, and feeling of self-confidence." Carla Poole, Executive Director at Atwater Park Center

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Our work is urgent: America's young children are playing less than any previous generation. Only one in four young children gets the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity or active play per day. The challenges are particularly acute for the 15 million young children living in poverty who too often lack access to places to play, go to schools with no recess, and spend their time in places and situations that do not encourage active play. Since our founding in 1996, KaBOOM! has been a powerful champion for young children' active play and for building strong communities through civic engagement. KaBOOM!'s success in addressing the challenges above is in our Community Playground Build model which drives our Build it with KaBOOM! and Build it Yourself programs. Through those programs we have: • Rallied more than 1,000,000 volunteers to create better play opportunities for 8.5 million young children • Built nearly 3,000 playgrounds and improved another 14,000 more through our Build it with KaBOOM! and Build it Yourself Playground Programs; In addition, we have also: • Mobilized city leaders to invest in programming, policy, and infrastructure that promote active play; recognizing 257 cities as Playful City USA Communities in 2016. • Increased play activity outside of traditional playgrounds to include development and implementation of our Creative Play Products, Rigamajig and Imagination Playground. After eight years of deploying over 430 sets of Imagination Playground™, KaBOOM! has seen how transformative the product can be in a variety of settings. This includes pop up play opportunities in cities, in shelters that are set up after natural disasters, homeless shelters, classrooms, community centers, libraries and early childhood education centers, just to name a few. With this new program idea, we are focusing on providing Imagination Playground™ to support early engineering skills and behaviors in young children. Research has shown how important these skills and behaviors are for the young child, especially as the brain is undergoing rapid development. We also know that creative play can serve as fun and engaging tool to encourage and sustain these behaviors. We are excited to expand our work within the early childhood space in order to provide a play based solution to the challenges that early childhood educators face related to early learning. Namely, the lack of quality products that can be used to give young children, especially those from low income families an opportunity to learn early engineering skills that are necessary for more complex learning as they grow and develop.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

In order to be most effective in the implementation of the program, we will need to partner with an organization like NAEYC or Child Care Aware to support the identification of the recipients of the Imagination Playground™.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We would like to collaborate with early childhood educators that are looking for innovative play based solutions to support early learning. In addition, we would like to work with organizations that develop lesson plans and curriculum for early childhood educators.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

It would be helpful to have early childhood experts provide guidance on best practices for training early childhood educators, specifically as it relates to incorporating a new type of play opportunity.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

David Flanigan is the Director, Play Products at KaBOOM! Over the last 12 years, Dave has directed and supported programs that are designed to provide equitable access to play for kids throughout North America. Under his leadership, over $8 million in grants have been provided to communities to build a playground, improve their existing playspace or bring creative play opportunities to kids that need it most. https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-flanigan-04b903a/ kaboom.org

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped.

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Yes, David I am hoping that at one point we might have to collaborate so I can tab into your idea to develop a playground that can add more learning opportunities for the children I am working with. Thanks for the contribution to helping children have different ways of learning.

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