The Children at Play Network and Louisville’s Olmsted Park Conservancy(OPC) have developed a partnership for play. In the spring, CAPN provided free play training for staff and volunteers so that they could become skilled in leading and staffing their own Free Play Days at Louisville’s Olmsted parks. OPC hired two CAPN facilitators to assist with the event and provide hands-on coaching. Building relationships to expand opportunities for play is key to what we do. We’d love to partner with your organization to bring more outdoor free play for children.
A Reflection By Matt Spalding, Education and Volunteer Program Manager, Olmsted Park Conservancy
Last month, Olmsted Parks Conservancy hosted its inaugural Free Play event in conjunction with our Shelby Park Bike-In Movie Night – a pop-up festival with music on a stage, food vendors, beer tent, sponsor booths, other kids activities (yard games, an art truck, face painting, etc.) with a family friendly movie at dusk. About 200 people attended the festival with 50 or so children engaging in the free play area throughout the evening.
It was an overcast and windy day, but the rain held off and we had great attendance from both park neighbors and others drawn to the festival. We set up a rope swing on a giant oak tree, parked our cargo trailer pretty close by, set out four cones to demarcate the boundary of the play area, and set out lots of loose parts. It was so windy that I was glad we had lots of tree stumps and cookies to act as paperweights for the cardboard boxes. But it was also neat to watch the wind blow the boxes closer to the traditional playground equipment, integrating the two over time. The same thing happened with the art truck, where kids started hanging yarn and painting on their forts and spaceship creations.
There were three main waves of children over four hours, with the first group already there at the playground when we arrived. As soon as we set out the loose parts, they came over to explore. As the small festival got going full swing, there was a second wave of kids who came with parents.
After dinner, a third wave of children from the neighborhood dropped in to play. It was great to hear and answer questions like, “Is this all for us?” “What is all this stuff?” “Can my cousin come play with this, too?”
Towards the end as we were wrapping up, it tugged at my heart strings a little to hear a girl who was clearly so proud of her structure ask me “Can I take this home with me?” I told her yes, after all it’s a one-use cardboard box, but I chuckled at the thought of her lugging it all the way across the windy park lawn– as it was about 5 times bigger than she was! That made me think about possession and scarcity and how connected she felt to the project she had worked on. Many children seemed to long for this type of creative outlet.
I enjoyed watching the evolution of the play space, and deciding when to “return objects to play.” I loved watching the kids negotiate taking turns on the rope swing and helping the smaller kids use it.
It was helpful to have the two facilitators from the Children at Play Network assisting with the event. They also helped explain concepts, theory and real-time interactions to some of my volunteers who were there observing.
All in all it was a good first effort and I’m excited for next month’s Free Play event at Bingham Park on July 20th!