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MAP (Market, Mothers & Park) Alliance (Updated Jan 6)

The idea is to build community between an urban park which delivers multiple benefits to children, and a large marketplace where preschool children are with their mothers at work. Repurposing simple market goods like cooking paddles into playable preliteracy tools can be the entry point for infusing the market place with pre-k learning elements, and drawing the traders into a partnership between park and market which creates mutual benefits in both of these important community sites.

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(Updated 1/05/15) MAP (Market, Mothers & Parks) seeks to improve literary and cognitive outcomes for small children by building a partnership between two of the most important urban community sites - the market place and the park. How might we make this established resource of the market place a partner in regenerative development?
It is not the goal to set up formal early childhood centers ( A few of these have already been tried). Rather, we wish to seed the market with ubiquitous, intentionally designed items that will readily lend themselves to informal playful learning.

Why the market place?
- Market places in Ghana are key centers of economic activity in which women, many of them mothers of young children, control production, processing, transportation and distribution of foodstuffs and goods. The market is where thousands of 0to5 children spend their days, so it is a logical, even ideal, site for early childhood interventions.
- The urban market is a multi-lingual, mixed income, intergenerational, empowered productive space with many materials to inspire design with children in mind. It is also completely lacking in attention to the natural environment.(Updated 1/05/15 Every urban area in Ghana has its own market system.)
- Market mothers often have multiple and perhaps undervalued skills besides trading which could enhance the experience of parks for children. These include artisanship, oral tradition & storytelling, art, crafts, music, gardening, etc.

The "nature deficit" for young children who are increasingly growing up in urban/peri-urban settings is a real concern. In addition to this disconnect, average grade-level reading proficiency is poor, and less than 5% of low-income households have story books or practice leisure reading at home. Literacy is still a formal skill associated with classroom learning rather than playful cognitive development outside of school. Indigenous production of pre-reading visually rich books and materials is very low.
This post points to the pressures on land in fast-growing cities like Accra, which marginalize,override or overlook  child-friendly spaces. In these sprawling cities, environmental degradation and its attendant hazards impact all children (15 and under, about 40% of the urban population) and particularly those from low-income households.
(Updated 1/05/15) The way we live in cities, our awareness of environmental impact and the possibilities for placemaking, are urgent and topical issues today. MAP is at the intersection of all three.
Inspired by the foundational work of Efua T. Sutherland, the Playtime in Africa Initiative of Mmofra Foundation exists to explore, champion and accelerate the idea of the outdoors as a "third teacher".
(Updated 1/05/15) A two-acre pilot natural environment is being designed to offer children of all backgrounds, multiple opportunities for physical, cognitive and social development. It is the Mmofra Park in Dzorwulu, Accra. (Mmofra means "children").
It also functions as a collaborative maker hub, designing learning landscapes, play features and tools for playful education derived from local or repurposed materials. The park elements are tested by children, retooled when necessary, and are intended to be shared as widely as possible.
This "shared park" concept appreciates that the same physical space may not be replicable, but successful elements of creative processes in the park can be seeded in the community by direct invitation as well as using targeted toolkits.

 (Updated 1/05/15) For women in the marketplace, the most relevant toolkits may be those relating to learning activities that are possible within the confines of the marketplace, as well as health, nutrition and developmental information. These are practical mothers who must earn to look after their families, but who also can be encouraged to take ownership of the project when they see good outcomes for their children.

Below for reference are some actual and  potential uses of the re-imagined park which could benefit 0to5 children from all backgrounds including the market community in this prototype (proceed to User Experience Journey attached):

-  This park model is literally a level playing field where children from different backgrounds interact. In cities with big gaps between rich and poor, it may be the only social space for unmediated exchanges between young children. In this sense, it serves a different but no less essential purpose than smaller playspaces within specific neighborhoods/communities.

Healthy Environment/Information Centre/Classroom:
- make trees, plants and nature in general a priority design element where possible. Name trees and plants in child-friendly script, and arrange for local horticulturists to give periodic tours.  Often, the people with the best local knowledge of indigenous plants are recent migrants from rural areas who live in low-income communities. This conveys to children the important message that their communities have value.

- Create and share an infographic based on local practice and experience, about the best child-friendly plants, trees and creatures for your local park environment.  What kinds of plants keep play areas clear of mosquitoes, or snakes, for example?  Which trees are fast growing or otherwise beneficial?  Which plants and flowers might be toxic to children? Can vines be grown on artificial tree forms to accelerate shaded areas?

- Sanitation is key! Open defecation or inadequate toilet facilities are a huge problem for rural and urban families globally. To accelerate awareness, adopt one or more of the workable toilet solutions that have been developed worldwide, to suit local conditions, and pair the physical facility with an effective hygiene education program. Develop simple science or STEM information/activities which explain how engineering and biological processes work in toilet systems. Prepare leaflets or cards with visual information about affordable home toilet solutions and disseminate to parents/caregivers.

- Design robust handwashing "plaza" as standard park entry/exit protocol (make it a fun but strict ritual which explains the importance of washing in health). Distribute (to parents) laminated cards with visual information demonstrating good WASH practice, which can be hung at home.

- Reliable clean water and power can be a challenge. Consider applying to a sanitation charity or development organization for a borehole if municipal water is inadequate or expensive. Ditto for power, if solar energy solutions are accessible.  Create STEM learning activities around these as well.  Inform parents about the availability of any local solar energy solutions and where they can be accessed.

- Design visually appealing receptacles for organic, recyclable and other trash... Develop playful programming to modify trash disposal habits. Plastic waste and indiscriminate burning are at critical levels in many cities.

-  Partner with highly effective local health delivery organizations for well child information and campaigns (e.g. dental care, deworming, vitamin A). (Updated 12/26/14) Thanks to Emmanuel Owobu for the link to Children for Health, which "focuses on developing children as ambassadors and communicators of essential health messages in their communities".

- Partner with proven urban gardeners to create a demonstration garden with nutritious, locally acceptable produce and other useful or therapeutic plants. To maximize efficient use of space,  consider vertical gardens.  Parallel activities can include children's participation in growing things and the capacity to take seedlings home (e.g. in recyclable water bottle planters)  

Maker Space/Incubator/Lab:
- A park can provide wonderful outdoor space opportunities for child-centered creativity by both adults and children.  At Playtime in Africa, we're making and testing new loose parts play materials and play structures all the time and it's incredibly rewarding for both makers and users.  We design with children in mind, but also with local cultural inspiration and awareness of best practices from other places (see last summer's study abroad design studio

Successful prototypes are intended to be shared widely.  Children are encouraged to be makers and to share their skills with other children (in our context, children from low-income households often make the best toys from recycled materials). Adults in the community draw on their own perhaps sublimated skills to contribute in the maker space.  They often find it therapeutic!  (Updated 1/05/15) This is where we are hoping to draw in market mothers.

"Classroom" for Literacy:/Numeracy
Parks can provide great culturally grounded outdoor learning opportunities.  Many children think of books as formal school-based artifacts in which they seldom see themselves or their lives portrayed. Literacy can be designed into the landscape and structures of the park in both words and pictures. It can be encouraged by providing cosy out-of-classroom spaces for reading. Theatre and drama in the park can be hugely effective in giving children confident of verbal expression. Similarly, there are many creative and playful ways for children to learn the fundamentals of numeracy outdoors.(Updated 1/05/15) Market traders are famous for their quick mental calculation skills and could be great partners for numeracy development.

As a focal point for children's wellbeing in a city,with equal access to girls and boys, the children's park can adopt such strategies as periodic children's festivals and events.  A Children's Market for example can be a calendar event at the park when children engage in role play and lead in interactive exchanges.


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

The pilot model park under the Playtime in Africa Project is a two-acre space in a mixed income/mixed use neighborhood in Accra, Ghana which is most accessible to several thousand children within walking distance or a ride (in traffic) of 30 mins or less. It is intended to be accessible to children 0 to 15 of all backgrounds. (Updated 1/01/15) The prototype specifically targets children and mothers in Malata, one of Accra's largest markets which is located about 6 miles from the park. There are several markets of similar or larger size in the city which could replicate the successes of the prototype. The market is approx 4 acres in size with a daily population of thousands. It has almost no trees. This model may be replicated in other cities in Ghana and in any urban area where public child-friendly green space is scarce.

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

(Updated 12/26/14) Feedback this month from the Playtime in Africa Team in Ghana is that WASH strategies are already well in progress at the park. We have changed the prototype focus to exploring how the "shared park" might forge a relationship with mothers and 0to5 children (as suppliers of materials and end users) in the nearest large marketplace. Markets in Ghana are dominated by women , who produce, transport, distribute , process and retail foodstuffs and other goods and services. Their 0to5 children who are not yet in school spend their days in close proximity to their mothers' stalls, making the market place a promising test site. Malata is one of Accra's major marketplaces, about 6 miles from this children's park. Park and Market Cycle One: Defining needs and interests. In July 2014, we identified three vendors of wood cooking paddles at Malata Market. These items are commonly used for serving food and inexpensive, about 2 cedis (or 50cents) each. By purchasing a number of paddles from each, we began to establish a customer relationship with them, and each expressed an interest in the use we had in mind. We noticed small groups of young children playing in between market stalls and sometimes dangerously close to pedestrian traffic in the market lanes. None were playing with books or letters. We then took the paddles to the park maker space, where they were attractively painted and repurposed into "pre-reading paddles" with clearly drawn letters of the alphabet or drawings of familiar objects, animals and human characters. Children at the park readily helped to create these and played word games with them. Cycle Two: Return. In the current prototyping stage, we will return to the market with a set of the repurposed paddles and approach the paddle vendors to help us identify one or two sites in the market where between 5 and 10 children per site can very informally experiment with the new paddles and can be observed unobstrusively over a period of a week. These vendors will introduce us and be intermediaries in gaining the trust of the mothers. We will then make a larger order (100 - 200 paddles) from our vendors and invite them to personally deliver to the park. The purpose of this invitation is to introduce them to the space and initiate them as word-of-mouth ambassadors within the market place. Cycle Three: Sharing. We will formally request the market managers to allow us to develop at least one site within the market where our trained animators and play leaders can more intentionally direct playful acquisition of pre-reading skills over a period of one month. This "site" might be within a parent's stall, or a small space in between stalls (i.e. in the same spaces that the children congregate). Interviews with parents, caregivers and children at the end of Cyle Three will determine whether or not the prototype has made a positive impact with them. Did the children strengthen their pre-reading skills? Were there any challenges? Would the mothers like to continue the site activity or to help to create more features right within the market such as the micro reading nook recycled spools ? Would the mothers be willing to select their own chaperones (older siblings for example) to bring small groups of 0to5 kids to the park on regular excursions where both the young children and their older chaperones will be exposed to a much broader experience of nature-based play and discovery? The prototyping will prove whether cycles of relationship can be established between two place-based community sites for the benefit of children, and if the "shared park" is a viable concept.

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

- Funding partners - Strategic planning - how can such a place become self-sustaining without putting hardship on low-income families? - A co-ordinator and training for aa team of four volunteers - Landscape Architecture support - In-kind support -Expert advice feedback from Open/IDEO community

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.
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Team (6)

Amowi's profile
Bettina's profile
Bettina Fliegel

Role added on team:

"Bettina, lots of valuable links and thoughts that align very well with the park in Accra!"

jennifer's profile
jennifer compau

Role added on team:

"Jennifer's been a key discussant in thinking through the park and market connection. Welcome to this team!!"

Barbara's profile
Barbara Loste

Role added on team:

"Barbara brings to the team a strong international background in the stewardship and management of community spaces. Welcome!"

Scott's profile
Scott Halliday

Role added on team:

"Scott asks great questions which help to clarify the idea and context!"

Maddi's profile
Maddi Greenhall

Role added on team:

"Maddi's contribution reminds us how universal these ideas are!"

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Attachments (4)

Playtime in Africa Links.pdf

For anyone who might like more context for the broader park idea.


Example of design collaboration with research and analysis, between Mmofra Foundation and TU Delft team on park project.


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