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Playground Ideas: promoting the power of play in enhancing educational outcomes.

Playground Ideas teaches communities to use recycled and low cost materials to create loose parts play kits for children in emergencies.

Photo of Joanna Francis
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What problem does your innovation solve?

UNICEF reports that 43% of children under 5 (over 250 Million) are failing to reach their development potential which causes life-long negative consequences and perpetuates the cycle of poverty . Barriers to effective brain development include the stress of disadvantage, cultural ideas about child needs , rote learning and household chores (particularly falling onto girls). Children in emergency situations face even greater challenges.

Explain your innovation.

Playground Ideas' resources allow anyone, anywhere to create play for children, using locally sourced and recycled materials. Nowhere is play more beneficial than in emergencies, yet this is often where its importance is rarely understood. Playground Ideas has created tools, handbooks and teacher training manuals that promote the importance of play and the impact it can have on children's learning, and gives practical tools for how to create low-cost play spaces and loose parts boxes that can be easily maintained in emergency environments. Teachers, parents or community members in emergency situations can create a free account on our website and then gain access to a huge range of resources, as well as personal support and advice. The loose parts manual guides users through a step-by-step process to create their own unique loose parts play kit. In emergency situations, loose parts play materials allow play opportunities and offer many benefits over traditional, fixed equipment spaces. They are cheap or free to create, can accommodate all types of play and children of all abilities and encourage peer play and social cohesion. Play can be an intuitive method for children to process trauma and reconnect to the world. Longitudinal studies conducted over decades have shown that increased play during early childhood creates the foundation for development of cognitive and social skills that help to determine an individual's lifetime earnings. (Gertler, 2013)

Who benefits?

Playground Ideas' resources are largely intended for pre-school and primary age children. The benefits reach to the parents, teachers and communities around those children. Through play, children develop the neurological building blocks essential to further learning and growth. They form connections, build social and emotional skills, and develop positive long-term attitudes to discovery and learning. A typical user is a pre-school or community group that wants to create a play space for children that have access to very few play resources. They are resourceful and have time and people ready to commit to creating play opportunities. Users can teach others, resources can be shared and passed on. Training mentors allows the lessons and skills to be spread. Success is measured through the number of children who have access to quality play materials and who are actively engaged in regular play, as well as the number of new teachers and parents who believe in the importance of play.

How is your innovation unique?

Playground Ideas is the only open source play based organisation in the world. Unlike other organisations, all of our resources are free and readily available to anyone. What has made us successful is that local communities take the initiative to create what is needed in their own communities. It is not based on an 'International expert' implementing a project or installing a play space. Community members take the lead, identify their needs, what resources already exist, and we fill gaps in knowledge, provide ideas, designs and technical advice. What sets this initiative apart, is its simplicity and the ease with which it can be created in emergency settings and be scaleable. A loose parts box just requires finding low cost and recycled materials that are easily available in most settings, learning about how to use the materials, and how to get the best out of them, how to let children take the lead and use their imaginations, their problem solving and social skills.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

We know, through studies, research and our own experience, that providing quality, stimulating play experiences for children in emergencies has huge benefits for them and their communities. And we know that our resources and loose parts play kits have been used effectively around the globe. What could still be fleshed out further is the way in which the model could be replicated within emergency situations and what is the best way in which to identify and motivate key members of the community to teach others, to share the ideas and create a play movement?

Tell us more about you.

Playground Ideas is a registered non-profit based in Melbourne, Australia. Its founder and CEO is Marcus Veerman. Joanna Francis is our community engagement and operations team member and Elizabeth Moreno is our social media and special projects consultant and we work with a large team of volunteers and consultants. We also work with a group of partners through our Global Play Alliance, made up of other play based organisations around the world, whom we train and support.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Natural disaster
  • Armed conflict
  • Prolonged displacement
  • Extreme drought

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

As indicated in previous questions, this initiative could be implemented anywhere and in any kind of emergency situation. A loose parts box does not require much space or particular conditions. It could be set up in a refugee camp, during an armed conflict or after natural disasters. Its effectiveness is only limited by the imagination of what can be included and this can change over time.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

10 years ago Playground Ideas started an organisation built around scalability using the internet. We have built 40 playgrounds in Thailand and are currently building 50 playgrounds right now in India but Playground Ideas is not focussed on any particular location and we are unapologetic about that. We work with anyone, anywhere around the globe who sees that play is not sufficient in their location. So far we have supported over 1600 projects in 85 countries.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

PI have worked extensively with both large and small organisations across the globe including World Education Consortium, Save the children, Children On The Edge along with hundreds of small grass roots organisations. Along side this PI has created a Global Play Alliance ( which is training and equipping local Play focussed non profits and social enterprises in around 15 countries.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

PI has over ten years experience consulting with communities and creating play spaces with schools, parents and children. PI was created after working in IDP camps along the Thai/Burma border and since then, we have worked on the ground and online around the globe. The combined experience of our team members spans various roles in development and emergency contexts, from Uganda to Afghanistan, East Timor to Brazil. Our online resources are a product of experience, consultation and lessons learn

Innovation Maturity

  • Roll-out/Ready to Scale: I have completed a pilot and am ready or in the process of expanding.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

Melbourne, Australia.


How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

The feedback received hasn't changed the idea significantly but has helped us think more about the way that recycled or recyclable materials may be seen and valued in settings such as a refugee camp and the implications of that for this idea.

Who will implement this Idea?

One of the beauties of this idea, is that it doesn't require a team of people on the ground. The resources already exist online and can be accessed by anyone, anywhere. Our core team of people work in Melbourne Australia and we have partner organisations all over the world. We have a wonderful Global Play Alliance partner, East African Playgrounds that works primarily in Uganda, and who we have discussed working with on the idea of creating loose parts play-in-a-box kits tailored to their area.

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

1. The biggest challenge faced on a day to day, individual level is the lack of space and resources to create play for children in their communities. Schools or play areas are overcrowded and under resourced, children and teachers are stressed and often traumatised. 2. A great systems-level challenge is that play is not prioritised as something that has value and long term impact on children's development and is overlooked as a core element of educational interventions for children.

How is your organization considering sustainable growth in order to continue making an impact over time?

We currently receive funding from a group of philanthropic donors in Melbourne, as well as through our own fundraising events and activities. However, we are currently looking at ways that we can diversify our funding stream to make it more sustainable and are looking at ways to possibly create some for-profit arms of the organisation in the future.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact that you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question/hurdle you need to address to get there?

IMPACT: In five years, we aim to see pre-schools and child care centres across refugee camps around the world incorporate quality stimulating loose parts play into their provision of early learning educational programs. QUESTION: How do we convince people of the importance of play and the impact that it can have on children's long term development and wellbeing in the face of so many other challenges facing refugees?

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) outcomes for this project?

Our current outcomes are measured through the number of loose parts (and other play manuals) downloaded through our website and the number of projects added to our website. But we would love to measure it through the number of actual children participating in daily stimulating play despite living in difficult circumstances.

What is the timeline for your project Idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Initially, we want to get the word out about our resources and how community groups working in refugee camps can share the loose parts manual and other resources with teachers, parents and volunteers and get them creating loose parts play kits with children. Then we want to create tailored loose parts play kits for specific regions and work with specific partner organisations who can create play-in-a-box play kits tailored to the particular area and circumstances they are in.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Under $50,000 USD

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed Idea live?

  • No paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country that you intend to implement your Idea in?

  • We are a registered entity, but not in the country in which we plan to implement our Idea.

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this Idea together?

  • Between 1 and 2 years

What do you need the most support with for your innovation?

  • Business Development / Partnerships Support
  • Communications / Marketing / Graphic Design

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Photo of Irene Márquez

Hi Joanna,

We´ve loved your proposal. We are trying to develop a project that we believe works alongside with yours. We would love to exchange ideas with you.
Here´s the link to our project. Hope you find it interesting.

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