Public park a haven for parents, kids

Franklin Institute staff members conduct a liquid nitrogen demonstration at FreePlay on the Parkway while parents and children enjoy interactive learning. — PHOTO BY ANGELA HASKELL

Philadelphia parents have another option when searching for fun and free outdoor play space for their children.

FreePlay on the Parkway unveiled its summer programming series with a kick-off celebration, science in the sun and outdoor reading — all in the first week.

The area is the first park created by Play InBetween, a Philadelphia-based non-profit committed to developing innovative and unstructured play spaces in underutilized areas.

“Play InBetween is part of a growing national movement that is working to bring unstructured play back to children’s education and development. Overwhelming evidence suggests that we ignore this type of play at our peril,” said Christine Piven, who partnered with neighbor Catherine Barrett to create this pocket park on Ben Franklin Parkway. “The Parkway site is such a great space; it’s large enough for my daughters to play ball, climb a tree and play with the components. I love that that they come up with their own games.

“They play their own version of humpty-dumpty, stack up the Imagination Playground blocks, sit on the top and then topple over,” she added.

The park was created in a little over a year, starting with a concept, securing fundraising and implementing the vision into reality.  

“I am proud that the park was completed in record time,” Priven said. “It is an incredible feeling to have worked hard on something and see it come to life. FreePlay is in its second year and we have a growing following of adults and kids who enjoy the space. In order to raise productive citizens, we need to offer our kids opportunities for child-directed or unstructured play. I am proud to have built a space that reflects this.”

Anna Tas and her family have been supporters from the beginning. During nice weather, she spends about 60 hours a month outdoors with her family.

“It’s just time spent outside playing, walking, eating and just being together relaxing without walls,” she said.

Having a space for children to play freely in a safe environment is important to many city residents.  

“A space where the building-blocks are provided, but the structure is left to the child’s imagination is fantastic — it encourages creativity,” Tas said.

She enjoys the space and time spent traveling to the moon in space rockets and putting out fires with her sons Harry and Franky Tas.

FreePlay on the Parkway promotes sharing.

“There aren’t toys that one child is bringing and has ownership of — everything is for everyone,” Tas said.

Play InBetween recognizes the need for unstructured play as a critical and often-overlooked element of childhood education.

The space is designed to encourage independent and creative play by combining touchable art installations with inventive playground and recreational equipment for kids and the young-at-heart.

The components of the space will remain. The park features Imagination Playground blocks sponsored by Sprout; a huge octagonal sandbox — the only public, eight-sided sandbox in the city; and a ping pong table. Bistro-style seating is available for parents or anyone in search of a place to relax.

“There are subtle lessons on how to get along and approach relationships with others when you’re encouraged to interact this way as a child,” Tas said. “Having the park staffed is practical in the city, as this keeps the equipment safe and clean, which as a parent is also something I appreciate.”

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