Coordinate within and between city agencies to harness the power of playful learning

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Today, more than half of the world’s children grow up in cities. By 2030, up to 60% of the world’s urban population will be under the age of 18. Yet children are often invisible to planners, developers and architects when creating city-wide policies that impact transportation, air and noise pollution, as well as health and safety. well-being, as Tim Gill noted in his recent book “Urban Playground”. “The truth is that the vast majority of planning decisions and projects ignore their potential impact on children and make no effort to solicit children’s views. … Too often this is due to a simple lack of respect for the rights or capacities of children, ”he writes.

What does child-friendly town planning look like? A growing number of cities are prioritizing early childhood by infusing play and playful learning – child-led activities that often include adult-initiated or designed learning goals – into programs and facilities for children. promote healthy development and learning.

In our Brookings report on actions cities can take to develop play-based learning, we highlighted the need for coordination within and across city agencies to support the design and integration of play-based learning efforts into. new and existing projects. This was the topic of discussion at our recent Playful Learning Landscapes (PLL) City Network meeting with teams from Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Tel Aviv.

These were the main takeaways from the city’s presentations and discussions.

1. Capacity building within the system is essential, especially when cross-sectoral coordination is required.

A key step in prioritizing early childhood development in Tel Aviv has been to create a position within the municipality to work with municipal officials from all jurisdictions to implement reforms, including the creation of city-wide parenting services, adapting public spaces to the needs of young children and improving urban mobility so that families with young children could access the services they needed. While the education administration or the administration of social and public health services were the logical choices for the seat of the new project manager post, the mayor of Tel Aviv placed the post in the administration of community, culture and sports, a group that has collaborated with other administrations. to address a wide range of issues that impact the lives of young children and their families. “Many foundations will fund an NGO that works with the city from outside,” said one of the Tel Aviv team members. “In my experience, it is not enough to have resources and to work from the outside. You have to build capacity from within.

Children play in one of the sandboxes on the streets of Tel Aviv. (Photo credit: Bosmat Sfadia Wolf)

2. It is valuable to create champions on the ground, as well as at all levels of the system, for the sustainability of the program.

Leverage its strengths and organize collaborative professional development sessions in partnership with Playful Learning Landscapes Action Network (PLLAN) and Free Library, the Philadelphia Office of Parks and Recreation has helped create champions of ground-level play learning and literacy. The goal was to turn recreational leaders into role models for others in the system. “For things to fit into a big system, you really have to find your ‘champions’ on the ground,” explained one of the city’s network members – “the people who are going to stay and work with the children and the children. put in a position of strength. At the municipal agency level, Parks and Recreation and the Free Library have come together to Play Streets (which was traditionally a meal distribution program) into a fun learning opportunity by leveraging the playful learning elements that already existed in their own work. Identifying champions, especially when resources are limited, goes a long way in identifying synergies and implementing programs.

PlayStreets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Families in Philadelphia participate in fun learning activities on PlayStreets. (Photo credit: Philadelphia Parks and Recreation)

3. Finding an entry point through existing initiatives or structures can help establish important links, especially in the early stages of alignment between municipalities.

At the start of Tel Aviv’s journey to become a leading city for young children and families, the mayor asked an innovation team from Bloomberg Philanthropies to find solutions to mitigate the city’s high cost of living. . A city-wide survey identified early childhood services, especially for children aged 3 and under, as one of the main contributors to the high cost of living. This created an opportunity for Urban95– an initiative of the Bernard van Leer Foundation which asks: “If you could discover a city at 95 centimeters (the height of a three-year-old child), what would you change? – to launch a wider debate on early childhood. “We [Urban95] aligned with the program of the municipality of [reducing the] cost of living, ”shared one of the Tel Aviv team members. “The aim was to change the way the municipality operates and improve the way children play, learn and move around the city.

4. Alignment and coordination between municipal agencies does not happen overnight and is an ongoing process.

The Philadelphia Office of Children and Families (OCF) was established in early 2020 to consolidate city services, including parks and recreation and the free library, to ensure that city policies and services for children and families are coordinated in partnership with the Philadelphia School District. While city departments had playful learning projects aligned with their department’s missions prior to the creation of the OCF, the new city agency is fostering stronger bonds and a broader vision of how to keep families safe. and healthy, especially during the pandemic.

Tel Aviv’s journey to becoming a family city that prioritizes early childhood began in 2016 and is captured in a Princeton University case study. The study documents the transformation from a city that once showed little interest to its younger residents into a city in which every municipal agency sees early childhood as a strategic priority. “I think it’s a work in progress because people leave their posts after you invest in them,” shared one of the city’s network members. “How do you consistently build your champions and connect with your champions? This is something that must always be on the table to work with the municipalities. “

Note: The Center for Universal Education receives funding for its work on Playful Learning Landscapes from the Bernard van Leer Foundation, which also supports Urban95. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the authors.


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