Innovation in Action

Community of Practice on Play

Promoting playful learning in the early childhood field

What is a Community of Practice?

A Community of Practice is a group of people who learn together over time as they work in areas of shared passion or concern. The goal of a Community of Practice is to identify and address shared challenges. By doing so, the community seeks not only to help individual members advance their own work, but also contribute to the larger field.

What do a researcher, museum leader, community program leader, teacher, and an urban architect all have in common? They’re all committed to tackling one important question: how can we better understand the science of play and its role in advancing children’s developmental outcomes and buffering them from the effects of toxic stress?

The Center’s Community of Practice on Play (CoPP) is dedicated to increasing the understanding, appreciation, and presence of play in the early childhood sector. The CoPP’s members include global and domestic researchers, practitioners, developers, non-profit leaders, and policymakers. The group works together to support cross-cutting, catalytic relationships among its members that will benefit individual work as well as generate insights that will contribute to the fields of play, learning, and early childhood more broadly.

The CoPP’s Activities

Plans for the CoPP began at the Center in September 2016 and resulted in the community of practice’s first in-person meeting in July 2017 in Cambridge, MA. Over two days, 30 diverse stakeholders in the field of play discussed four key areas of shared challenge and opportunity:

  • The science of play
  • How to measure the impact of playful learning
  • Play in community settings
  • Framing of messaging around play

Urban Thinkscape transforms public spaces into opportunities for playful learning by infusing them with activities that challenge the mind while encouraging joyful interactions between children, parents, and caregivers.

CoPP members also plan to develop case studies, interviews, and video logs as a means of synthesizing and sharing the knowledge and work of the community with the field and the general public. The community’s first multimedia case study features Urban Thinkscape, an intervention that transforms public spaces into opportunities for playful learning. The Urban Thinkscape team is part of the CoPP and was selected because of the program’s unique, built environment that takes the science of play and applies it in a community setting. The Urban Thinkscape story also demonstrates the importance and benefits of co-creation in designing, implementing, and testing interventions—part of the Center’s IDEAS Impact Framework approach to innovation.

Currently Funded Projects

In an effort to build on the generative ideas and connections that were made at the July 2017 meeting, the CoPP offered its members the opportunity to apply for seed funding to help support ideas that can move the work of the community forward. Members submitted their ideas through an RFP process, and the CoPP, with support from the Lego Foundation, is currently funding the following promising projects:

  • Association of Children’s Museums (ACM)/Hume—The ACM and Hume, a science-informed design practice focused on people-centered spaces, are working together to develop educational offerings (a webinar and professional development seminar) that will inform children’s museum leaders, educators, exhibit designers, and architects about the role of neuroscience in creating engaging, enriching environments for children and families.
  • City of Boston—Part of a public space design competition sponsored by the Boston Mayor’s Office of Urban Mechanics, this project focuses on ways to create equitable access to play at Boston Public Schools bus stops during the winter months, when outdoor activities and learning are limited. “Play Around the Snowy City” will also document the process of engaging city officials, residents, and other community stakeholders in this type of work.
  • Early Start Discovery Space—Located at the University of Wollongong, the Early Start Discovery Space is Australia’s only dedicated children’s museum—an interactive, educational space designed for children and adults to enjoy together. The project will focus on generating new insights about how these types of environments can engage families and encourage them to continue playful learning at home.
  • Play Walls—Funding for this project will be used to evaluate the effects of chalkboards installed throughout the city of Philadelphia on local communities. The Play Walls chalkboards prompt residents to provide their own responses to the phrase, “When I was little, I loved to play…” Community members will be trained to collect evaluation data by observing behavior and conversations in front of the Play Walls and interviewing residents about the walls and playful learning.
  • Power Tools in South Africa—Developed by Tools of the Mind, a science-based early learning program, Power Tools is an app that supports and scaffolds individualized reading skills for children and encourages dramatic play. This project and the seed funding will support an adaptation and pilot of Power Tools’ play techniques in a classroom in South Africa.