Playful Learning Landscapes

How can we transform everyday experiences into fun and simple interactions with the environment that help children thrive.

At the intersection of the global cities movement and the movement to optimize early education in and out of school, lies Playful Learning Landscapes.  Twenty-first Century Learning models will need to embrace a breadth of skills that allow children to succeed in a world of increasing uncertainty and change.  Projections suggest that by 2050 over 70% of the worlds’ children will be living in urban areas and that most of these children – over 825 million – will reach adulthood without even the basic secondary skills required to meet the workplace of today and tomorrow.

The general response to this inequality has been to enrich education through high quality universal preschools.  This is critical and the research suggests that it catapults children into better school readiness and beyond.   Yet – it is not enough. Learning today occurs in and out of the classroom and to date we have done little to capitalize on out of school time as a resource for children everywhere.  Children spend only 20% of their waking time in school. What are we doing with the other 80%?

Photo credit: Sahar Coston-Hardy

Playful Learning Landscapes is one answer to that question that dovetails with Itai Palti’s Conscious Cities movement.  It asks how we can reinvent everyday experiences as fun learning opportunities that organically prompt the kinds of interactions that help children thrive.  It all started with a simple question: when is a bench not a bench? How can we literally change the architectural design of benches to infuse them with learning potential by adding puzzles that build science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills?  How can we change the everyday to make it more extraordinary.

Thus far, Playful Learning Landscapes has transformed a park with a pop-up experience designed to showcase the science of how brains learn (Ultimate Block Party).  We transformed supermarkets in Supermarket Speak to heighten caregiver-child interactions.  With the West Philadelphia Belmont Civic Association, we morphed a bus stop into a playful learning plaza in Urban Thinkscape. We mounted a life-sized human board game designed to spark STEM learning at the Philadelphia Please Touch children’s museum, we collaborated with LEGO to design the Playwall experience and in Playbraries, we worked with designers (Studio Ludo) and the community to create the next generation of libraries. And this is but the beginning.  The City of Seattle is poised to do safe sidewalks to school imprinted with Playful Learning Landscape Designs, Chicago is reinventing 3 neighborhoods through Learning Landscapes,  and local hospitals are engaging us to think about how we can remake hospital waiting rooms.

Stay tuned for more and find the latest: and

(Video produced by Beth Balaban)

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