The promise of play

Kids need to play.  We all instinctively know it.  If you Google the importance of play you will find many studies validating it, saying things like “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, cognitive dexterity, and emotional strength.”

“Kids Need to Play” was the aptly named Parks program funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) last summer.  In partnership with other parks systems, we deeply discounted access to activities throughout the County to help all our kids get outside and play after being cooped up by COVID.

Yesterday, I was invited to make some opening comments at the annual Promise of Play Symposium sponsored by Greentrike (formerly the Children’s Museum).  The Greentrike team, led by Executive Director Tanya Durand, is challenging us to take our commitment to our children – and a stronger community – to a new level.

You know by now that I love data. Did you know that 23.3% of our County population is under 18 years of age?  That’s almost 1 in 4.  That means we have over 215,000 children and young adults – the equivalent of the population of Tacoma.  As a percentage, we have more youth and young adults than King County.  We also have more of the youngest children, those under 5 years old, as a percentage than our neighbors to the north. Do you think our K-12 schools are important to our community?  Yes, they are!  And we have over 61,000 children under 5 years of age headed their way.

That’s how adults look at a situation – numbers, trends, and comparisons. However, my perspective on youth in our community has changed because I now get to see it through the eyes of my granddaughters.

So, when Tanya invited me to speak at the symposium, I said I would be happy to join them and that I’d like to bring my granddaughter, Blair, with me.

Onstage with Blair and Tanya Durand

Tanya interviewed both of us in the morning to open the symposium.  Blair talked about how she loves going to school, visiting the aquarium and spending time with her Pops (me).

Blair with her Pops

Hearing her perspective on what makes her happy provided valuable insights.  For example, she loves the aquarium because the displays are at the right height for her to see what’s going on. (Thank you to the staff who clean all the little hand prints off each day!)

Seeing things through her eyes (and all the other wonderful and amazing “Blairs” in our community) gives us a vision for ways we may be leaving young people out of our considerations.

Greentrike’s challenge was: How can we make Pierce County the best place to grow up?  They highlighted three things we can do today to energize this effort:

  1. Infuse your spaces with play.
  2. When making decisions, seek out young voices.
  3. Connect with one youth beyond your circle.

Those are excellent principles for all of us to keep in mind in our work for our community.  And not just for our Parks team, but anywhere we see kids in our work – and I see many in the lobby of the County-City Building!  Learn more at

If we achieve this challenge, it will definitely be great for our youth, but it would also be good for everyone in our community.  I was reminded of this just last Saturday at the ribbon cutting for the new playground at Lidford Playfield.  All ages came out to celebrate this new place to play in the neighborhood.  I talked with parents there with their children on the playground and long-term members of the community who use the walking path.  They all saw the park as a place for their community to come together. Congratulations to everyone who made it possible to provide a new place to play!

As I close out this blog, one last reminder: don’t forget to join me on Wednesday for the Town Hall. I can tell from the anonymous questions I’ve already received that your colleagues have a lot on their minds!

Thanks for reading,