Kids Climbing Net

PLAYFul Trends 2016

With the “always-on,” stressed-out life that everyone seems to lead these days, time for free, outdoor play has never been more important to de-stress and decompress—for kids and their parents. The experts at IPEMA and the Voice of Play explored the hottest trends in play and found eight of the most exciting ideas for playtime—sure to please the kid in all of us.

1. An Hour a Day

More and more educators and parents realize that play is crucial to their kids’ school experience—not just for fun, but because it helps them learn! Today’s parents aren’t leaving it “to chance” that their children will get outside to play; instead, they’re fighting to get back recess time, which has fallen by the wayside as rigorous academics and test preparation have taken precedence over the very evident plusses of constructive downtime. The Voice of Play advocates parents to make it official by signing a Play Pledge.

Popular programs, such as Playing to Learn, used by YMCAs for early-learning success, are integrating play right into the curricula. Read, Play and Learn® and Play & Learn are two more examples of curricula that have programmed play into every school day for those lucky kids.

Monkey Bar Kids
Times Square

2. Made to Move

Evidence is mounting that walking is all the exercise we need to reap the physical benefits that help keep our bodies (and brains) healthy. In fact, a recent study reveals that brisk walking is more beneficial than strolling and cuts the risk of heart failure no matter the activity level. Consequently, more folks than ever are slipping on their walking shoes. There’s even a movement afoot that’s all about Walking4Fun.

Good thing, then, that major cities are making pedestrian safety an increased priority—e.g., New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched Vision Zero, and Los Angeles has Mobility Plan 2035. The Congress of New Urbanism is looking at ways to make more U.S. cities more walkable. The book, Walkable City, is all about making urban areas more livable … and by that we mean more walkable.

3. Beyond Childhood

You may have heard (and we may have mentioned) that everyone feels the stress of modern-day life. From adults, for whom the economy has never quite recovered post-recession, to millennials, whose entry into work life has been a bit of a bummer (putting it mildly), to even our children, who face greater stressors than any generation before. We all need a little time to decompress—and what better way than to get out and play a little?

For grownups, it started with kickball games, or dodgeball, which is a little more aggressive (and a lot more potentially comical). Adults want to play like kids on even more fronts—in Astoria, Queens, an adults-only playground is planned for a vacant lot under the Triborough Bridge. In England, a bouncy house for grownups has sprung up. Across the U.S., Ultimate Frisbee has gone from fringe to legitimate league activity, and courses hosting its offshoot, disc golf, are being built across the country. Heck, even senior citizens want to get in on the fun … and who can blame them?

See Saw
Outdoor Fitness

4. It’s Better Outside

Outdoor fitness pursuits have surged in the past few years with boot camps, Cross Fit and other outdoor workout enthusiasts of all shapes and sizes who prefer their workout with the sun on their faces.

Outdoor fitness parks are making their mark in parks and recreational areas around the country as a natural extension of the passion that many exercisers have for being outside. Considered by some as playgrounds for active adults, most outdoor fitness parks work well with the multiple training styles popular with outdoor enthusiasts. As individual as the regions in which they appear, some outdoor fitness parks feature the typical workout gadgets and machines while some contain free weights and repurposed materials.

5. Back to Nature

The National Park Service has enjoyed historic success with its ad campaign, “Find Your Park”—so much success, in fact, that 2015 saw a record number (305 million) of visitors. There’s even a new IMAX film, National Parks Adventure, featuring Robert Redford narrating a coast-to-coast tour of the parks system. Imagine that—the star of The Natural is promoting the country’s natural beauty.

But for times when a national park isn’t on the agenda and staying closer to home is a necessity, local playgrounds and parks are trying to bring nature to the neighborhood. Butterfly gardens, vegetable gardens, climbing walls and climbing ropes are all popular ways to help kids and adults play in a natural setting.

Nature Play
Inclusive Play

6. All Inclusive

Kids and parents of all abilities deserve the opportunity to play. All-inclusive, universally designed play spaces make sure they do. With a growing number of children of varying abilities, folks across the planet seem to agree, from Australia to Illinois, from Tennessee through the Western U.S. Now inclusive playgrounds are popping up thanks to support from both nonprofit organizations and corporations.

In one Texas elementary school, fourth- and fifth-graders planned and designed their own mock-ups of inclusive playgrounds, learning more and sharing with others about why everyone should be able to take advantage of playgrounds.

7. Taking Chances

Studies show that kids derive numerous benefits from engaging in rough-and-tumble outdoor play, including learning how to manage risk in ways that develop both psychological and physical confidence. Is it any wonder then that we are looking to find riskier playground equipment that encourages kids to gain those benefits? There are even some adventure playgrounds that offer quirky experiences that border on the “risky.”

Of course, it’s the best of both worlds when “risky” play is offered in a controlled environment—providing the feeling of risk without the actual risk of immediate danger. And for girls and young women, it’s even more important to face fears and seek adventures that help instill greater confidence and empowerment.

Creative Play

8. Mind Expanding

Computers have been playing mind games with humans for years—first, IBM’s Deep Blue beat Chess Master Garry Kasparov in 1997, then Watson won “Jeopardy,” and now a computer program from DeepMind emerged victorious in Korea from a world-championship match of the ancient Asian game Go. But now our Artificial Intelligence (AI) friends are taking the fun outdoors, engaging in sports like biking, skateboarding, basketball, table tennis and soccer.

Call it the perfect marriage of brain and brawn, STEM and fun. The yin and yang of AI and outside play makes for an exciting experience—and a sense that the future is now. Even better, look for continual improvements on the tech front till one day, those robots will be beating people at physical pursuits on the playground, too, and not just in battles of the brain.