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Playpod: Play coming your way...

Playpod is a mobile and flexible playspace designed to empower kids and their parents to engage in joyful, creative learning; in essence, to play together. These portable structures are delivered to community gathering spots - everything from churches to community centers - to bolster student learning through developmentally-appropriate play that targets senses, movement, and language. We will partner with community leaders and caretakers - both within the United States and abroad - to staff the Playpod and ensure that it is effectively deployed to reach low-income communities. It will catalyze local connections as kids and parents join together in inquiry, discovery, and collaboration. Play coming your way!

Photo of Kelli Ledeen
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How it will work: Imagine this Scenario...

It’s a beautiful Fall day.  

<honk honk>  A semi-truck, carrying an intriguing-looking steel and glass structure, pulls into a church parking lot in Durham, NC.  From the outside, curious onlookers see brightly colored objects peppered inside the Playpod.  Red chairs. Blue crates. Multi-colored tiles lining the floor.    

At the same time, half-way across the world, a team of tuk-tuks are hauling an assortment of brightly colored toy chests strapped to the roof, and barreling toward a cricket field in a nearby Mumbai slum.  Each of these chests contains toys and games specific to a particular developmental stage and can be quickly and easily unpacked anywhere parents and children gather.  This smaller and more modular approach accommodates crowded spaces where there may not be sufficient room for a full-size Playpod.   

A Playpod has arrived and it flings open its doors to invite parents and their young children inside.  This Playpod is hosted by the local church for the next six months and is staffed by volunteers who oversee its maintenance and operation.  In every corner of the Playpod, one can find color-coded play activities carefully designed to align to children’s social, emotional, and academic development from birth to five years old.

Every kid is given a “Playcard” with activities just right for his/her developmental stage.  Each color-coded “Playcard” visually represents a series of self-directed activities - lasting as little as 20 minutes - for children and their parents to explore together.   

The Playpod is filled with low-tech, no-tech and a few high-tech toys that deliberately target the need for young children to explore senses, movement and language.  Toys are simple and crafted from everyday objects so they can easily be re-created at home.  Progress is tracked for repeat “playmates” - those children participating in the Playpod - so kids, parents, and the local staff can have a shared understanding of how a child is progressing.  After each visit, a child is given the option of borrowing a new toy to continue his/her learning at home, which can be exchanged upon returning to the Playpod.  



Why Our Idea Might Succeed

Our concept brings creativity and play directly to where families already congregate within a community.  We bring experiential learning to parents who are seeking opportunities to bond and learn alongside their children because  we believe that learning can happen anytime and anywhere.  By helping empower parents to take an active and participatory role in their children’s learning and development, Playpod unlocks the power and potential of a community, a parent and a young child.

Our idea, however fanciful it may seem, is rooted in research and science.  Neuroscientists consistently highlight the importance of how young children develop socially, emotionally, and cognitively. These formative years are critical in establishing the neural pathways - research shows 700-1,000 new ones created every second in a child’s young brain - that will prepare children to be successful lifelong learners.  Furthermore, this cognitive growth is buoyed by the interactions and bonding among children, their parents, and other caregivers in the family or community.  (ref: Harvard University
Center on the Developing Child


Who will benefit from this idea and where are they located?

We are designing this for parents in low-income urban environments - both domestic and abroad - where there is a concentrated population of those with young children who may have limited resources. Since Playpod must align with the local community and heavily relies on local partnerships, we understand the importance of thoughtfully developing different deployment strategies based on the policies, culture, and context of the end users. For example, what works for an urban community within the U.S. may not mimic the approach one would take to bring Playpod to the slums of Mumbai, India or urban Mexico City. While implementation tactics may differ amongst communities, the overarching mission of Playpod remains constant: young children are better able to thrive - academically, socially, and emotionally - through meaningful and creative play with their parents.

How could you test this idea in a quick and low-cost way right now?

While our team is based in the United States, we are also interested in bringing Playpod to international communities. As a result, we would simultaneously pilot the playspace in two locations - one domestic and one abroad - to robustly test our assumptions and collect diverse user feedback. To identify an appropriate abroad market, we would leverage the expertise of organizations that already possess deep community roots and a track record of high-quality, high-impact support. These intermediaries would be valuable thought-partners as we scout locations that: 1) reflect our intended user (e.g. low-income urban communities); 2) reveal local leaders with whom to collaborate; and 3) harbor organizations with formal and informal community ties. Our low-cost prototype would help us test the following questions: - If we set up a Playpod with fun and engaging games/toys would families stop by to check it out? - Could we find a local community member (i.e. a grandmother, a retired teacher) to oversee the Playpod? - Would parents return with their children more than once? - What are the similarities and differences between domestic Playpod and international Playpod?

What kind of help would you need to make your idea real?

Our team seeks help in two key areas: 1. Programmatic: - Trust seems to be a critical component of Playpod’s ultimate success; how can we physically create a space in which parents and children feel a high degree of safety and comfort? - What incentives would motivate parents to return multiple times? - How would we measure our success? 2. International Presence: While our team members have experience with international communities and educational systems, we are looking to bolster our own understanding about where this initiative would best complement the users in an urban environment. - What international urban communities should we consider? - What are the advantages/disadvantages of selecting an international aid intermediary (e.g. UNICEF; Red Cross) versus a country-specific nonprofit (e.g. Pratham within India)? - How could we best conduct empathy research to uncover the cultural nuances within an international community dealing with educational systems, social services, and even the structure of the family unit?

Is this an idea that you or your organization would like to take forward?

  • Yes. I am ready and interested in testing this idea and making it real in my community.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ayman Hanafi

Brilliant Kelli. This idea would create such a stir for parents and children alike. Parents would be delighted to see their children having fun and at the same time interacting with each other, creating friendships and also developing new skills . Learning through play and colour is fascinating for young children as well as turn-taking and sharing. Every success Kelli.

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