Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Play Spotting


Bouncing along the snow-rutted streets on a recent hectic, errand-ful Saturday, I listened to The Splendid Table on Minnesota Public Radio. Host Lynne Rossetto Kasper was interviewing John Moe about 3 food apps he recommended for techie foodies. One recommendation in particular caught my attention: Foodspotting. Moe described Foodspotting as the Facebook of going out to eat. First, you enter your location. Available foods nearby then pop-up showing what someone has ordered, photographed, uploaded. Later a comment is added about how the dish actually tasted.

It wasn’t the food focus of the app that caught my interest. Rather it was imagining play as the focus, as in playspotting. What if people were as interested in, alert to, and enthusiastic about spotting and sharing wonderful, found moments of children (and families) at play as they are about finding a delicious key lime pie or pasta Bolognese served on pappardello?

Admittedly, there are lots of resources and blogs about play, play resources, and playgrounds. A few I enjoy regularly reflect the variety.
  • PlayWatch is a community discussion listserv hosted by the Providence Children’s Museum. It shares and connects people, ideas, and resources to safeguard and promote children’s play.
  • Playscapes is a blog about playground design spotlighting examples of a wonderful variety of unconventional and unlikely play spaces from around the world: artistic, historic, rustic, and found. Some, but not all are planned as playgrounds.
  • Just Let Children Play has a list of the best play blogs  along with regular postings about play in many forms and settings.
Play spotting is some mix of these blogs and foodspotting. It picks up everyday, anywhere, on-the-spot play, those moments when children have escaped from the structure and linearity of their lives to find, direct, and become absorbed in their own play, brief or extended. Not limited to play in museums, libraries, playgrounds, nature centers, or the play corner at the clinic, it focuses on children at play on the beach, at the hardware store, in the check-out line, in the yard, taking out the trash, waiting for the parade to begin. Play spotting follows children’s play as they hide in leaves; disappear between the overcoats on the store rack; inhabit a cave under the blanket-draped picnic table, or construct an elaborate cardboard arcade at a parent’s shop. Caine’s Arcade is an excellent example of play spotting. A customer at Caine’s father’s car parts store noticed and was curious about Caine’s construction. He checked out the arcade, talked with Caine about it, and uploaded a video to share with others.

The spirit of play spotting is pausing and observing children at play. It is watching them and getting to know them and their thinking through their play. It is noticing what fascinates them and glimpsing the intensity they invest in play. If there were a play spotting app, for instance, you might share a series of photos of two young cousins fashioning swords and scabbards out of aluminum foil and duct tape. You might capture three friends standing in front of a giant fan shifting their bodies and bobbing their heads until the blowing air lifts their caps off and they chase after it–only to return to for another round of “blow-away hats”. You might notice children at Costco calling out spontaneously and exuberantly to one another from passing shopping carts. “Pickles!” shouts one. “Pickles, yum!” replies another. A final “Pickles yeah!” ends the call-and-response. As their laughter fades, you’d upload the photo or video to share with and delight the rest of us.

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