UP-Start awardees Christen Thompson and Julia Turner share their inspiration behind PlayUP (taking play to the streets of the Upper Peninsula) and what it takes to open up a street or empty lot to play and learning.
The concept—to provide free, educational and creative activities and items that would be eye-catching and engaging to adults and children—was easy enough to set down in our mission statement; however, communicating that to potential sponsors took some time and effort. We were lucky to find enthusiastic partners for the project, organizations that donated both volunteers and materials for the cubbies.
Over four events, we had over one thousand children and adults stop by and interact with the activities in the PlayUP cubbies. By far the most popular activities were the arts and crafts, but we also saw participants reading books, building planes, and investigating centuries-old toys. Volunteers from donating organizations came to help engage people with their activities. Artist & Craftsman came with a new craft for each event, and the Green Heart Project helped children make vegetable stamp art. The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry got children involved with giant Lego blocks, and the Charleston Museum demonstrated how to make a colonial-era toy, as well as provided a few for people to play with.
Overall, we found the series of events to be a success, though each event offered its own unique challenges. For the first on Maple Street, we had to seek approval from the city for the street closure, as well as drum up interest for the project as a whole, both time-consuming endeavors, but ones that introduced us to neighbors on the street who were excited to see an event of this kind in their midst.
For the remaining events, we partnered with other organizations. FAM JAM with the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry; the Romney Street Pizza Party, which was an effort on the parts of Enough Pie, New Israel Reformed Episcopal Church, North Central Neighborhood Association, and The Historic Charleston Foundation; the East Side Community Block Party, which was coordinated by the East Side Community Development Corporation, were all events that allowed us to tap into larger networks and communities, which we felt helped PlayUP have a larger reach.
At the events, we enjoyed seeing the various stages at which people interacted with the cubbies. It often took a while for people to acclimate to the idea of just picking up any item that interested them. Children were the first to dive in, especially with the arts and crafts items, which we often set up on tables in advance. People also discovered items in the cubbies—books, games, and toys. We watched as several young families sat down to read books together and as solo adventurers picked up and flipped through some of the visually engaging material available.
Most of all, we enjoyed being able to offer to anyone who came up the opportunity to partake in the fun. We got to meet neighbors and encourage them to explore. One of the best moments was when the project was turned into an impromptu face painting station. It reminded us that, while the cubbies had plenty of interactive material, the real heart of the project was what people would transform those materials into as they engaged in play.
Written by: Christen Thompson and Julia Turner