April 24, 2017

This nonprofit brings the joy—and health benefits—of play to underserved kids

Through the Play Everywhere Challenge, KaBOOM! is helping to turn everyday spaces into playgrounds

Kaboom! is dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids. Photo courtesy of Kaboom!

At KaBOOM!, we believe that play is a fundamental right for every kid. For most of us, our best memories from childhood involve the joy of play: making your first friend playing Four Square on the blacktop, or bonding with your dad over a game of catch in the backyard. We can’t downplay the essentialness of play in helping kids grow up to be successful adults.

Play is a critical component to healthy development. It cultivates social skills, greater self-confidence, risk-taking opportunities, and the chance to live a healthier lifestyle. Today’s kids deserve each and every one of those benefits linked to play. But for many kids, particularly those living in poverty, having time and access to daily play is a challenge.

Over the past 21 years, KaBOOM! has built over 16,000 playgrounds to give kids living in poverty the play they deserve. Yet if we want to reach the 15 million kids living in poverty today, we must explore how we can bring the magic of the playground to a kid’s daily life too. through building playgrounds alone. When everyday struggles and responsibilities combine with other hassle factors, the fact is, it can become really difficult for parents and caregivers to get their kids to the playground.

It can take place at bus stops, on sidewalks, at laundromats, or in grocery stores—in everyday spaces where kids and families interact daily, but are unexpected spaces for play. This allows moments of potential frustration or boredom to become moments of joy and creativity.

With this in mind, KaBOOM! launched the Play Everywhere Challenge in 2016, to ask people working in cities this key question: how we turn everyday spaces into PLAYces?

Throughout the challenge, everyday people imagined what our streets and cities could look like if they designed kids and families in mind. Over 1,000 ideas were submitted to the Play Everywhere Challenge. We ultimately awarded $1 million to 50 winners to implement their ideas.

The installations challenge communities to think outside the box about how to incorporate the Principles of Play Everywhere into the built environment so that kids and families were welcomed and valued in the spaces they interact with daily.

The City of Miami transformed dead-end streets that had been used as illegal dumping sites and for other illicit activities into a space for “old school” blacktop games. The installation empowered neighborhood residents to reclaim their streets. Parents are out playing with their kids, teaching them the games they played as children. The positive activity pushes away the nefarious.

It’s time that our city infrastructure signals to kids that they are valued, that they are a part of our communities and that we care about their happiness, health, and development.

The Urban Conga is a new playground in New Orleans. Photo courtesy of Kaboom!

In New Orleans, a previously unlit bus stop where kids waited in the dark to get to school is now a bright, colorful, and musical installation—a perfect fit for the community’s culture. The project is in the Lower 9th Ward, next to neighborhood’s only post-Katrina grocery store and laundromat, giving kids there a much needed gathering space of their own.

It’s time that our city infrastructure signals to kids that they are valued, that they are a part of our communities and that we care about their happiness, health, and development. There is no better way to do so than by integrating play into our urban landscapes.

Kids and families do not often receive top billing amid all the other demands faced by local government, but without them, what would our cities look like? And what would our cities look like if we started to design for these members of our communities? Now is the time to ensure our kids have the brightest futures possible.

As the Play Everywhere installations are completed throughout Spring 2017, please visit our website for regular updates, photos, and inspiration about how you can transform your own community!

Aisha Alexander


Aisha Alexander is Director, External Affairs at KaBOOM!, a nonprofit that builds joyful spaces for kids and families living in marginalized communities. She is a social sector expert with over 10 years of experience creating and leading innovative programs and thought leadership initiatives. The best part of her day is spent playing with her 8-month old daughter Hailey.