The Brain Architects Podcast: A Place to Play: Moving Towards Fairness of Place for All Children

In March 2024, we continued our Place Matters webinar series with our third installment: “A Place to Play: Moving Towards Fairness of Place for All Children.” During the webinar, we explored the power of play in supporting early childhood development, as well as the importance of ensuring that children and caregivers have access to safe green spaces, like parks and playgrounds. Our panel of experts discussed how access to safe, stimulating, and joyful play space is not equally distributed across communities, along with strategies to work toward building a future where all children have a safe place to play. The webinar discussion has been adapted for this episode of the Brain Architects podcast.


Leah Anywanwu
Leah Anyanwu (Moderator)
Programme Specialist, Children on the Move, Children’s Learning and Development, The LEGO Foundation
Cynthia B Brown
Cynthia Briscoe Brown
Atlanta Board of Education Seat 8 At Large
Kathy Hirsh-Pasek
Kathy Hirsh-Pasek
Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Temple University; Senior Fellow, Brookings Institute
Lysa Ratliff
Lysa Ratlif
Chief Executive Officer, KABOOM!
Le Quyen Vu
Le-Quyen Vu
Executive Director, Indochinese American Council
Melissa Rivard
Melissa Rivard  (Webinar Host)
Director of Engagement Strategies, Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University
Cameron Seymour-Hawkins
Cameron Seymour-Hawkins (Podcast Host)
Communications Coordinator, Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

Additional Resources


Cameron Seymour-Hawkins: Welcome to The Brain Architects, a podcast from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. I’m Cameron Seymour-Hawkins, the Center’s Communications Coordinator. Our Center believes that advances in the science of child development provide a powerful source of new ideas that can improve outcomes for children and their caregivers. By sharing the latest science from the field, we hope to help you make that science actionable and apply it in your work in ways that can increase your impact. 

In March, we continued our Place Matters webinar series with our third installment: “A Place to Play: Moving Towards Fairness of Place for All Children.” During the webinar, we explored how play and a family’s access to safe green spaces, like parks and playgrounds, support early development. Our panel of experts discussed how access to safe, stimulating, and joyful play space is not equally distributed along with strategies to work toward building a future where all children have a safe place to play. We’re excited to share part of this conversation on today’s episode of the Brain Architects podcast.  

If you’re interested in in seeing some examples of community-led solutions to address gaps in play space equity presented by Lysa Ratliff of KABOOM and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek of Playful Learning Landscapes, we encourage you to head over to our YouTube channel to view the full webinar recording.  

Now, without further ado, here’s Melissa Rivard, the Center’s Assistant Director of Innovation Strategies, who will set the stage for our conversation. 

Melissa Rivard: Welcome and thank you all so much for joining us today. It’s really gratifying to have so many of you showing up for this really important topic. So thank you. I’m Melissa Rivard, Assistant Director of Innovation Strategies and I will be your host today. This webinar is part of a series of webinars that the Center on the Developing Child has hosted to examine the ways that a child’s broader environment, including the built and natural environments, as well as the systemic factors that shape them, play a role in shaping child development and health beginning before birth. Our focus today, the importance for all children to have access to stimulating joyful and safe places to play, is prompted by our focus on fairness of place as well as a desire to highlight a long standing collaboration between the Center on the Developing Child and the LEGO Foundation, and our shared belief in both the power of the early years and in the power of play to positively impact lifelong learning and health. Our moderator for the conversation is Leah Anyanwu. Leah is a program specialist at the LEGO Foundation, where she supports the Foundation’s early childhood portfolio with a focus on children displaced due to conflict and climate. Leah is a passionate educator and advocate with over a decade of experience working in education with a focus on early childhood and education systems reform. Along with Leah, we’ll be joined for this discussion by a phenomenal group of panelists who bring a wide range of expertise related to this topic. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek is a professor of psychology at Temple University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. She served as president of the International Congress for Infant Studies, was on the Governing Board of the Society for Research in Child Development and is on the board of 0 to 3. In 2010, Dr. Hirsh-Pasek founded Playful Learning Landscapes with her colleagues, an initiative that reimagines cities and public squares as places with science infused designs that enhance academic and social learning opportunities for young children. And we have Lysa Ratliff, who is CEO of KABOOM!, a national nonprofit that works to end play space inequity. Lysa is a leading national advocate for equitable access to play spaces, has been invited to speak at several White House events and engages with members of federal, state and local public offices advocating for and creating opportunities for kids to play across the nation. We’re also joined by Le-Quyen Vu, who is Executive Director of the Indochinese American Council in Philadelphia, a nonprofit working to empower disadvantaged and minoritized groups and newly arrived refugees and immigrants in their community to achieve social, economic and educational advancement and mobility. And Cynthia Briscoe Brown, a member of the Atlanta Board of Education, Seat 8 at large who’s been instrumental in passing a number of policy initiatives, such as the historic Equity Policy, the Atlanta Community School Parks Initiative and the Atlanta Public Schools Center for Equity and Social Justice. Without further ado, I am so pleased to hand the baton to you, Leah.  

Leah Anyanwu: Thank you and welcome, everyone. I am so excited to hear from each of our panelists about the critical work connected to play equity and for this conversation, which centers the power of play and the importance of safe and quality play spaces. Our aspiration at the LEGO Foundation is that children become creative, engaged, lifelong learners who thrive in a constantly changing world by experiencing the benefits of learning through play. The scientific evidence around the power of play is clear and growing. In short, play is essential, everyone. Not only is play the best way for children to learn and to thrive, but play builds the foundations of lifelong learning and fosters holistic development. We’re here today because there is so much opportunity for children, families and communities when it comes to play and creating spaces that invite and enhance it at the community level in policy development and in the work that brings each of us to this conversation today. Yet we have a long way to go towards ensuring that the opportunity for quality play is equally accessible to all children, families and communities. To quote the Place Matters paper that Melissa just mentioned, “just as dimensions of the built and natural environment have been designed over time, they can be redesigned to support healthy development.” Throughout our conversation today, we will share insights from research and the field about ways to redesign, to rethink and to rebuild in pursuit of creating environments that support all children’s copy development. Now, without further ado, let’s get started. And I really want to invite Kathy to really focus first on the why. So, Kathy, good to have you here. What does this science tell us about why play matters for children, particularly young children? And how is play connected to learning and what kinds of play and characteristics of play are particularly important?  

Kathy Hirsch-Pasek: All right. You got it. And thank you so much, Leah. Well, we created Playful Learning Landscapes because we agreed with you Leah and we agreed with the work going on at Harvard that it was time to transform cities and villages and towns into family friendly spaces that were inclusive and that were infused with learning. So what I’m going to share with you today are not really just play spaces. It’s not like going to the playground. They are every day spaces that are infused with the science of learning and social learning that can be built right into the architecture. We build everything that we do on what we call our three part equation. The first thing is that when you go into a city, you need to know who your audience is. You need to be consistent with the cultural beliefs and the community values. So we start there. And then on top of that, we add a series of characteristics that define how human brains learn. And it just so happens that those same characteristics define play and playful learning. You have to be active, not passive, engaged, not distracted. It has to be meaningful. It has to not be disjointed. Has to be socially interactive. It has to change a little each time and be iterative. And finally, it should be joyful. That’s the how of learning how brains learn. And then the science of what children learn is the 6Cs. You know, in a world with AI we need to learn reading and writing and arithmetic, but we need to go beyond it. Can we collaborate and can we communicate well. Do we know our content? Do we have critical thinking? Do we have good–here you go–creative innovation, which is going to be very important. And then we want to know if you have the confidence to give it a try, which helps to feed grit and perseverance. There’s a whole lot of science to back this work up. And that you can use this equation for digital media, for places and for school building in ways that will help kids grow in a playful way.   

Leah Anyanwu: Thank you, Kathy, for that framing, I want to bring Lysa into the conversation. Lysa, KABOOM!’s mission is to end play space inequity for good. Can you tell us how you define play space inequity and share what you’ve learned about the scope of the issue? And what are you and others doing at the policy level to try to address it?  

Lysa Ratliff: Sure. The big question and I want to start by thanking Kathy for grounding us in such beautiful space, because what we see through those examples is that we have solutions. We are working against a solvable problem, and for Kaboom! we define play space inequity as a lack of access to and a sense of belonging and which is important. Quality play spaces due to the affect of systemic racism in communities across the country. And for anyone who’s been following the report, the play Place Matters report or the webinars, I would encourage you to go back to Dr. Lightsey-Joseph’s conversation where she laid out the historical policies that we are all trying to navigate today, and for Kaboom! Within that broader context, our focus is centered on kids. We care deeply about our children and we prioritize public space. And so we focus our efforts on play spaces and the surround sound that needs to happen so that kids have more access to and more quality time in play spaces so that they can benefit from all of the things that happen when kids go out and play on quality spaces. What we’ve learned about the scope. There’s just four really big categories that we’ve discovered through some work that we did that was funded by Colorado Health Foundation, and we worked with our partners at NC State and the College of Charleston, where we see those same patterns of inequities that Dr. Lightsey-Joseph was talking about and things like the achievement gap, the access to healthy food and health care coverage, all of those things. They also apply to play spaces. And so the four different areas are 1) distance matters and we hear a lot of conversation around the ten minute walk and the accessibility to play spaces and making sure that it is the easy option and that play spaces are within the communities that we need to work in. The challenge is that low income and communities of color and even rural rural communities are more likely to have limited access to play spaces where they live and learn. This is not just in their community, this is in their schools. There are schools without play spaces at scale and in parks just across the board. There is not easy access to play spaces and public spaces for kids and families to go. So that’s one critical piece. The quality of those spaces is also something that we’re concerned about. And so even when they do have access to places, it tends to be lower quality. It tends to be in communities of color, half the size as in communities that are predominantly white. So there’s less space to be able to play in and there’re worse physical conditions and lower play value. So we all know that kind of repetitive play is important and being able to not just go out there once and play, but time and time again to go out and discover new things is really important. That all has to do with quality. Neighborhood, again, you know, when we’re thinking about inequities, low income and BIPOC communities are more likely to have limited access to play spaces because of neighborhood factors like transportation and personal safety concerns. And so community cohesion and coming together and making sure that the community starts to really bind together as a community through public space will also help us address the barriers to kids going out and play. And then finally, history. You know, I’ll kind of end with this piece with where I started is that our communities are still shaped by racist historical practices like redlining. Our public spaces, our schools are a reminder that not so long ago they were segregated space. People are still alive that lived in segregated space. And I can’t share it here because I don’t have license to the photo. But I would encourage people to look at the Gordon Parks photo from 1956 called Outside Looking In, and it shows a group of young black kids looking through a fence into the most beautiful play space you can imagine. And yet they weren’t allowed to play in it. That residue is still what we’re dealing with today. Those kids in that photo are probably still alive. Some of them are probably still alive today. So we’re not talking about that long ago. So that history that we have inherited is also affecting how we work today . In the fifties, what we were also seeing is infrastructure being developed that went straight through thriving black communities like our highways and freeways, all of this backdrop is really the barriers that we have to make sure that we are acknowledging and problem solving around to make sure that we solve in a way that addresses the systemic issues, but also allows us to work in a systematic way so that our future is better than our past. You talked about policy, or asked about policy. And so to that part of the question, doing so much, so much and we’ve only really leaned into policy and advocacy and government affairs works since like 2019, 2020. And in that time we’ve moved in light years. You know, we think that our policy and advocacy work and the influence that we have there is as important as the spaces we build, because that’s where we’re going to stall and stop the perpetual issue of that historical racism has created in our public space and the allocation of resources. And so in the policy work, we see play space inequity as a historic challenge, which stems from an intersection of local and state and federal policies that were rooted in a racially biased ecosystem and decision making. And so we have to work at all of those levels. At a local level, we’re working with our partners on data. We are very committed over these past years to really understanding through data where play space inequity exists, and so a resource that we can bring to our local partners is giving, providing them with that data and letting them overlay it with their own data as a road map for the work and also as a tool to help prioritize. Oftentimes you see in local systems that they work against the pressure of who’s talking loudest and who’s asking loudest. And so by having that data as their baseline for prioritizing their budgets, which is also a little bit of a policy document, because budgets are saying where money and resources are going to go, it helps our state or our local partners prioritize historically, disinvested spaces. That state work links to our federal and That local work links to our federal and our state work. Because so often the resources that go into the local system come from the state or the federal government. And so we work a lot at the certainly at the federal level where we are in a couple of layers. So we are working across the board, not just specifically on play space issues, but advocacy efforts around things like the rural development and the farm bill and looking for greater flexibility in that CDBG program because we know those fundings, those funds are going into local budgets. And so making sure that we are a champion for prioritizing equity in those spaces and then even some of the work we’re doing with the administration is to support the implementation of the 40 initiatives. And then finally, two other points on the policy work at the state level. We’re also working to advocate for things like recess, mandatory recess. And I was horrified to learn that California is the 10th state, which is a state we just worked on with Governor Newsom to pass a mandatory recess bill, but it’s only the 10th state in our country that has mandatory recess. So we have work to do there. But it’s alarming to know that we’re not even mandating recess in the majority of our states. The last thing I’ll say about our policy and advocacy work is it’s not work we can do alone. And so we’re part of a lot of coalitions. We helped co-found Coalition called the Nonprofit Infrastructure Coalition. We did that during the pandemic when there was funding being decided around infrastructure and making sure that we were part of mobilizing the sector to advocate for equitable allocation of resources when a lot of money was going to come out from our federal government. And then two other notable coalitions we’re a part of is the Percefra Place Coalition, which advocates for greater investment by the federal government in civic infrastructure. And then finally, the Outdoor Alliance for Kids, which is really looking at promoting legislation and policies that make it easier for kids to access outdoor recreation and play. And so a lot there, but a lot of history and the partnerships that we’ve been able to build make it really easy for us to lock arms and make the kind of progress that we could have never made alone.  

Leah Anyanwu: Yeah, Thank you, Lysa I mean, there’s so much to unpack here, but I’m going to ask you and you can maybe just in one minute, can you share KABOOM!’s general approach to design and creating play spaces and briefly summarize the project that can be will be speaking about this.  

Lysa Ratliff: Yeah. Okay. This is a challenge. So data collection, I mentioned that data collection is recently we have we know that we cannot solve playspace inequity if we do not know where playspace inequity exists. So we’ve made deep investments in data. So that data piece, the partnering with others, what Kathy was talking about, community voice and making sure that we are responding to what the community identifies as their needs through the team that we have here, and more importantly, local partnerships that are connected to community on the ground. We work with Le-Quyen who will hear from. We recognized a couple of years ago that we cannot keep working one project at a time, but we’ve got to look at more system level partnerships and working with peer organizations. So in places like Atlanta, we’re locking arms where Children in Nature Network, Atlanta Public Schools, Transfer Public Land to utilize the data that we’ve collected to re-envision what a school yard can look like. Nature elements, sports elements, learning outdoor classrooms. you’re not just looking at a play infrastructure, but you’re looking holistically at that school campus as a place to grow food, as a place to have multiple activities and so the Oakland work that we’re doing as part of our partnership with the Learning Play Foundation in Oakland Unified School District, where we’re transforming 25 schoolyards throughout Oakland by the end of 2026.  

Leah Anyanwu: Thanks, Lysa. I’m so sorry to interrupt that you have so much wisdom on this call and so many examples to share that I know we’ll share links to the theory of change and the project so folks can continue reading. I just really want to make sure we have time to pick up on one of the essential themes that you and Kathy spoke about, which is community involvement and leadership. And so I’d love to bring Le-Quyen in and Le-Quyen–can tell us what does community led look like in the Literacy Rich Neighborhood Initiative and the literacy tree installation, and how do you ensure that community members involvement is truly meaningful? How did involving the community make a difference in terms of design and the use of space? Le-Quyen, over to you.  

Le-Quyen Vu: So just to be clear on the record, none of us knew that we were. Lysa probably didn’t know that we were funded by KABOOM!, and Kathy probably didn’t know that this project was her brain when I started picking her brain, before we responded to the Funder who was asking for us to submit our idea so that that just to put it out there. The Center did not invite us because we were linked together. It happened that way. So, so to me when we got this project, so we are the literacy agency, We work with adults, we work with children. Family literacy is part of what we do. We are not an architecture firm, so I am entering into a territory that is new, that is born to me. So the thing that I that I have to ask myself was how do we get the community to this space that we tried to transform? Who knew we who are the people who will be using it, and how do we get these folks to take ownership? We talk about that all the time, but how we go about doing it is different. So that was a question that would just make me lose sleep when I heard that I got the funding because that’s huge. So I realized, okay, we have to approach this, the community, as partners. We have a job to do and these are the folks that will help us finish the job. So I always said this we have to approach this as we have a product in that we’re not selling anything, but we have something to sell. So the people who are using the space are our customers. So we need to go do that. We need to involve them from the beginning. We need to do the research at that. Lysa did her work, Kathy did her work. So our job is to take that work and bring it to the community in a way that is going to create a result that everybody’s happy. So that’s basically it. So we came in with a blank piece of paper. We wrote the proposal with 20. There’s a goal, this thing that we achieved, but we didn’t have a definite picture of what that looked like. We said what it looked like would be from the community. But he has other goals. So we went in there from the beginning before we submitted the proposal, we went to the community and asked them, we are going to do this. Would you be partner with us? Would you be interested in us doing this? So even before we submit the proposal, we went and asked them. So everybody was asking us, Yes, yes, yes. And then when we got the funding, it was easy to go back and say, So we got the funding. You said you want us to do this, so let’s do it together. So that’s basically what it is. And then us in the process of working on this project, I realized there are a culture differences between institution between government and between the community who live in the neighborhood. And our job–everybody knows what they want the two and know what they want coming together and connecting those two things together. They don’t speak the same language. Good thing that English is my second language, so that come naturally for me to be like, okay, we’re going to have to connect these folks. So we along the way, we basically played the role of a mediator, the peacemaker, the coming okay, here’s what people said. Here’s not what people said. And then coming and bringing people together. And that’s how we started that project and that’s how we the people decide where they want the space, the kit, these know what it looks like and everything was from the people. We went back we invited the university students. We invite the people to take the classes, the design class together, the community committed to ten weeks of 3 hours of every hour, every week to work as a student to design this whole thing. So the first phase was we got the William Penn Foundation to do that tree. The second–there are more– they the community wants a lot. So we were able to get KABOOM! to fund the other piece that the community wanted. So it’s an ongoing project.  

Leah Anyanwu: That’s what it sounds like Le-Quyen sounds like, you know, it’s very participatory and you’re always adapting and adjusting. And I mean, you touched on something that I would love to bring Cynthia in to kind of build on, and that’s, you know, a similar question, but from the policy perspective. So Cynthia, if you can just share briefly, you know, can you outline the work that you’ve done to make play more accessible for all children in Atlanta? And I know you’ve done a lot of work in this space, so perhaps you can just share, you know, a bit more broadly and then focus briefly on the Atlanta Community Schools Parks Initiative.  

Cynthia B Brown: Absolutely. And thank you for asking. As Lysa said a few minutes ago, history matters. And in Atlanta in particular, where Atlanta public schools, it has a approximately four out of five of our students are on free or reduced lunch, and well over eight out of ten are students of color. We deal with racial and socioeconomic inequities that are baked in for centuries. We have schools which have no walk zones. It’s too unsafe for children to walk from their home to the school. We have schools where two thirds of our students are transient. Atlanta is a city of neighborhoods. And and so we still have neighborhood schools, attendance zones where we believe that schools really are the the beating heart of a community, the social center of a community, not just a place for children to go for instruction, but for wraparound services, for health centers, for food pantries, for clothes, closets. We have parent centers where parents can come and use wi fi and and computers to apply for social services and apply for jobs. We have parenting classes, so we really think of a school as the beating heart of the community. We want that entire school property to be a learning rich environment. And so when we had the opportunity to work with KABOOM! And the children and Nature Network Trust for Public Land, the city of Atlanta, we needed to find a way to to to build a structure for that kind of partnership. What we are really talking about here is a new kind of public private partnership where where we tackle big problems, problems that are h onestly too big for any one of us to solve and and we are able to do that because we don’t care who gets the credit. Our equity policy that the Board of Education passed in 2019 is the foundation of this. It’s the driver of everything else we’ve done. Because what it does is require the superintendent to eliminate inequities in every decision, every dollar, every program, every initiative, every thing we do in Atlanta, public schools coming out of that is our student outcomes focused governance work, which uses data to drive all of our decisions based on student outcomes. And so the data that we get from the Atlanta Community School Parks Initiative allows us to make the argument that student outcomes are affected by play spaces because we’re given that information that allows us to to to use the policy as a lever to drive direct action. Finally, we, we then use the policy. I never like to say we do anything top down in Atlanta Public Schools, but we can use this top down policy. The the this I believe statement that the board makes in a policy to drive bottom up engagement so we can put in a policy that the that the superintendent will consult with the community will develop an engagement plan and then fully and faithfully implement that plan before we before we make any major decision. That’s been an effective way for us to integrate this play space work to to build learning rich environments and to to get the community involved. Because like Le-Quyen’s project, this is very community based. Our children and their families, our employees design the projects that we then implement. I’ll also say that building relationships is critical. We have a mayor right now who declared this past year is the year of the Youth–an APS alum himself. He has declared that he wants Atlanta to be the best place in the country to raise a child. And so we’ve received additional assistance by building relationships with the mayor’s office, with the city council, with the Department of Parks and Recreation that have resulted in some very tangible results, including a joint use agreement between Atlanta Public schools, the city and this consortium that the Atlanta school, the Atlanta Community School Parks Initiative, so that we can open our school yards, our spaces in our schoolyards to the community to allow them to to enhance added rich, what we are doing at the school and also in the community. We have intergenerational spaces in those in those schoolyards. They are safe, they are clean, they are welcoming, and so they are enhancing and adding to what we do in the classrooms.  

Leah Anyanwu: Thank you, Cynthia. So Le-Quyen I’d love to hear from you. What were your lessons learned about how community involvement can make a difference in the design and the use of the space?  

Le-Quyen Vu: Community involvement would help us maintain the space, would help us advocate for funding. When we did this work, we were ambitious and we thought that little money we have can do three things. We ended up with able to do only two. The community. Engagement was able to make the case to the state and get the money from the state to do the other area. So that’s what community engagement and community engagement also mean that they will look out for this space is is it to maintain a lot of time, We built these places, we make it beautiful, but funding ended and then we don’t have a means to continue maintaining it. That is what what is meaning is meaning that this place will continue to be used. This place will continue to serve its purpose and they will continue to maintain.  

Leah Anyanwu: Right. So really getting to the sustainability bit. And that’s really helpful. Lysa, can you also share your lessons learned about communicating the problem of play space inequity and what moves policy and decision makers can take if they want to make play more accessible for all children?  

Lysa Ratliff: Yeah, I mean, I’ll just boil it down to at the end of the day, we are having human conversations about our most precious humans. And I, you know, when you use words like historical disinvestment, racial equity, racism, it can become emotionally charged. But for us, we’re talking about a human issue and we’re talking about a human issue as adults who have a responsibility to care for our kids. And that just crosses all walks of life. And so for us, particularly in our policy and advocacy work, we’ve been able to show up in a very nonpartisan way to problem solve. The work that we’re doing in Uvalde, Texas, where we have quite literally locked arms with the community there, we have gone to the Hill with them and advocated across You know, Democrats and Republicans who are really looking at space and equity as something that can be solved as an example to solve bigger issues. And so at the end of the day, just my my advice there is that we’re just talking about human issues and our responsibility as adults to care for our babies.  

Leah Anyanwu: And this is a human issue, right? Like we can set aside our differences. At the end of the day, we are all set up for success when our children can thrive. Thank you for that.  Kathy, a question we received is around examples or suggestions of ways to create opportunities for quality outdoor play in communities that might have fewer resources. Can you share for one or 2 minutes just any examples or suggestions that you might offer?  

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek: Yeah, absolutely. The first thing I’ll say is that I totally agree with Lysa and Cynthia about the wonderful work that you guys are doing and how it’s really a team sport. And so there are a couple of things I’ll say about resources. The first is in the work that we do, bus stops have to be built, transit centers have to be built. There are budgets in cities and communities for these things to be built. So as I said, well, ours are play spaces. They aren’t really they’re just your average bus stop. They’re just your sidewalk. They just happen to be the library. And there is money for those amenities. So the cost to people in the community is zero. Okay. And we have found that if you go to the cities and you say, wow, the next time you put in this bus stop, the next time you put in this sidewalk, let us be a part of it and they will let us do it. And as Le-Quyen knows, Philly’s been really, really good about that. And even put a person who focuses on playful learning in the mayor’s office. So sometimes it takes that. And that also helps with the kind of coordination that Cynthia talked about. All right. One more piece to that is that, you know, you can do fancy things with the government or can do not fancy things. So I always talk about it as the champagne or the beer level. And all of those are available in the projects that we’ve done. And one that I did in the country of Colombia. And I have never, ever experienced poverty like I saw in the place that I was at in this one, this one school area in Colombia. And how did we put in place a learning landscape? We used cardboard, we painted it different colors, and we used chalk because with chalk I could draw on a floor, I could draw on a sidewalk. So sometimes it’s as easy as chalk. The examples I could show you that we went into, you know, supermarkets and change signage. The whole project cost us $65. So I wouldn’t worry about the cost. There are many ways to do it. I think the bigger issue is what you just talked about last time, that it really does involve listening and hearing as Le-Quyen told you so beautifully, so that the community has ownership you don’t and that you work with all the people who need to be around the table, which includes policy people and people from the Parks Department and people from the city, or it won’t get done.  

Leah Anyanwu: Thank you, Kathy. And I love that charge that, you know, play can happen with nothing. I remember being a child and we were just playing outside. We would just make up stuff. So we don’t always need, you know, fancy playgrounds. Can we just have some creativity? Recycled cardboard, plastic bottles, rocks, tires. The sky is really the limit. So we are we are nearing the end of the hour, which is hard to believe. And thank you all for such a rich conversation. Before we close out, I’d love for each of you to share one positive note to leave our audience with. So perhaps that’s an outcome from your work, a development in your community, or finding from your research that we can take with us. So we’ll start with Le-Quyen then hand it over to Cynthia, Lysa and Kathy close us out.  

Le-Quyen Vu: I would say persistence and partnerships. Those are the two things that I take away from this project.  

Leah Anyanwu: Thank you Le-Quyen.  

Cynthia B Brown: Mine is similar to that and that is never give up. Five years ago I would not have believed that we could be accomplishing what we are in Atlanta. And and the other word of advice I have is find champions, find a school board member who you can who you can rope in, who you can get excited about your project. Find a city council member, find a nonprofit CEO and and build those relationships so that together you can accomplish more. You can solve big problems in a way that none of you can do individually.  

Leah Anyanwu: Thank you, Cynthia.  

Lysa Ratliff: Hey. Ditto. There’s always a solution. And really, in looking at creating a better path in the future to, have a solutions mindset. And that’s how we’re getting stuff like this done. All of us work together in some way, shape or form on this panel. And so we’ve been committed to each other and to finding solutions to problems. And the more that we do that, the more results we’re going to see, like the ones Kathy shared with us at the beginning.  

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek:: I’m going to end with, believe. If you can dream it, you can do it. If you really feel it in your heart. I have seen people from the community of Philadelphia, Santa Ana, Chicago, people who you would never believe could rise to the occasion and make dreams come true for their community. Make inclusive spaces where every child can grow and can thrive with their parents, with their grandparents, with their friends believe, If you can imagine it, it is possible.  

Leah Anyanwu: Well, thank you for that. I think we have time for one last question before we close out. And that would be, you know, what advice do you have for folks about the best ways they can advocate for quality play spaces in their communities and what resources might you recommend? And anyone can take that one.  

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek:: Well, I’m happy to jump in again. As I said, it depends what you want. You know, the resources can be beer or they can be champagne and they can come from parks departments or they can come from city government. There’s so many ways to do this. If you have a dream that you want to fulfill, write us and we’ll help you get there.  

Cynthia B Brown: I’d second that and that is that that I think anyone working in this space is including myself, is happy to share what we’ve learned. In fact, the one of the most exciting things to me about the Atlanta Community School Parks Initiative is the chance to create a model which we can then replicate in communities across the country. So if if you are interested in this kind of initiative, if you want to hear more, please reach out to us and we would be excited for the opportunity to work with you in your community.  

Lysa Ratliff: The last thing I’ll add is find your people. Find your people. There’s people everywhere. All you got to do is just look up and listen and gravitate towards the people who are ready to get things done. That’s certainly how all of us are making progress is just finding the problem solvers, right?  

Leah Anyanwu: Oh, I was taking so many notes. Le-Quyen, Cynthia, Kathy, Lysa. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for the work that you do each and every day to ensure that children can access safe and quality play spaces. Thank you all for the work you do and thank you to all of you who joined us in the audience today. I hope you are leaving with actionable insights that you can integrate into your work. Back to you, Melissa.  

Melissa Rivard: Thank you so much, Leah, and to all of our panelists. What an incredible conversation. I just want to add my thanks to Leah’s for all of you and sharing your insights and your inspiring work today. And thanks to our audience for attending. Also, please stay connected to the Center’s work through our website and the newsletter for more on this topic. And of course, visit Playful Learning Landscapes and KABOOM!’s websites to learn more about their work, and have a playful day. Everyone, thanks so much for being with us.  

Cameron Seymour-Hawkins: The Brain Architects is a product of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. You can find us at developingchild.harvard.edu, where we’ll post any resources that were discussed in this episode. We’re also on Twitter @HarvardCenter, Facebook at Center Developing Child, and Instagram @DevelopingChildHarvard. Our music is Brain Power by Mela Collective. 


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