Adopting Free Play to Serve Urban Families
For most of 2018 the Children at Play Network has been working with staff from New Directions Housing Corporation and ChooseWell Communities. The goal remains simple – provide all children with amazing opportunities to engage in free play in the outdoors. That is more complex than first meets the eye. The following is a reflection from two people engaged in our first Seeds for Urban Play project.
Tabitha Underwood, Ph.D. – Director of Resident Services at New Directions Housing Corporation
Felicia Pennerman – Youth Service Assistant at New Directions Housing Corporation
Last winter we embarked on an incredible new adventure with the Children at Play Network, Bernheim Forest, and Choosewell Communities to bring free play to our residents. New Directions Housing Corporation provides affordable housing to over 1,000 families in the Louisville metro area, and not only houses many kids but also provides an afterschool and summer camp at many of our properties. This partnership was a perfect opportunity for us to train our staff and start implementing enriching programming through free play at our apartment communities.
The overall process of first learning what free play was, what it takes to have one, how to participate, and what is required was amazing. After our training, we couldn’t wait to get started and share these experiences with our resident families. On September 22, we were able to see first hand what free play looks like up close. Participating in free play as a facilitator, gave us the opportunity to observe, let the children run wild with their imagination and be creative, guide and let them lead. Overall it had a positive outcome on our children and youth; it gave them the opportunity to have control of something and not feeling like it has to be corrected; but the feeling that they are in lead.
The dynamics of what free play consists of, how it happens, and the outcome and the participation of the community and children was an eye opener. The children jumped right in and immediately engaged with the loose parts and each other. In the role of facilitator, we extricated ourselves so that the children had ownership over the process and their own play, which was difficult to do at times. It’s not a form of play that most of us are used to facilitating. However, once we were able to release our own management of the play, we were able to see the depth of each child’s engagement. For instance, they didn’t run from one activity to the next, they stayed with what they were working on until they decided it was complete.
As adults and parents, it can be difficult to remove yourself from directing the play. But we are confident that with a little practice, it will come more naturally. This experience was truly rewarding and we are looking forward to our next free play day to further expand upon our training.
If you would like to learn more…click HERE for a short video of the project.