Bambi Yost, Stuart Brown, Grenko Lehman, Spyridoula Vazou 2016 Playgrounds and the Importance of Play – talk of iowa interview

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Playgrounds and the Importance of Play Interview – Audio Only

As outdoor playtime has dwindled for many kids in the United States our understanding of the importance of that time has grown.

“Kids are 71 percent less involved in outdoor activities now than they were ten years ago,” says Dr. Stuart Brown, founding director of the National Institute for Play. “To me it’s a public health issue. The benefits of play need to be understood both for personal health, brain development, and social competency. We don’t somehow see play as being connected to that and yet it is.”

On this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks to Brown, as well as Iowans who are making outdoor play a priority: Bambi Yost, assistant professor of land architecture at Iowa State University, Jan Grenko Lehman, Iowa City Schools Physical Education Coordinator, and Spyridoula Vazou assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University.

They discuss the inequities that exist between schoolyards, what it takes to build a better playground, as well as how unstructured, physical play impacts brain development.

Available online at

Transcript available. Contact Bambi Yost @


Charity: It’s Talk of Iowa from Iowa Public Radio. I’m Charity Nebbe. Playing outside is important as outdoor playtime has dwindled for many kids in the United States. Our understanding of the importance of that time has grown. This hour, I’ll talk with people who are making outdoor play a priority, but first, we’re going to start on the playground.

Bambi Yost is an assistant professor of landscape architecture at Iowa State University. She’s working on a project to design and implement better playgrounds at inner city schools in Philadelphia. Hello, Bambi.

Bambi: Hello. How are you?

Charity: Good. Thank you so much for being here today.

Bambi: Thanks for having me.

Charity: You’re focusing in your project, you’re focusing your work in Philadelphia and I’d love for you to create a contrast for me. What do you see on some of the school grounds, the playgrounds in Philadelphia that you feel need the most help?

[00:01:00] Most of our asphalt, they are giant parking lots. Often times used as particular parking lots for the schools themselves, the teachers because there’s limited parking in these inner cities. This is not just a case for Philly. I mean this is actually true for many, many urban centers across the US. What happens with school districts is they don’t have the money and they don’t have the time and resources to actually maintain a cultivated or green schoolyard.

At least that’s our mentality. They typically pave them especially when they have a small site. You have an entire parking lot that is just cracked asphalt, hotter that you can possibly imagine, you may have the occasional 3 or 2 in there and often times, they’re pretty much neglected. There’s a lot of trash and litter. Now, that said, there are a lot of different small groups, neighborhood organizations that have been trying to make changes happen.

[00:02:00] What you’ll find is you’ll have a couple different schools that’ll have some raised beds because they’re allowed to do things that aren’t permanent. They can do temporary installations without having to seek school district approval. With those raised garden beds, the kids at least have some opportunities to grow things and to have engagement with green, living plant materials.

In particular certain areas, it’s an odd thing. They’ve got public-private partnerships where the neighborhood actually owns the play equipment and they maintain play equipment on some of these school grounds. Then other times there’s just nothing there. It’s quite varied I guess is the way to say it. When I go in and I see what the kids have for their play-at environment, they don’t even have things painted on the ground plane.

It’s pretty limited in general and it’s definitely not something that’s stimulating for them in terms of mental, emotional, physical, any kind of interaction that they need for their own growth.

[00:03:00] As you mentioned, this is not just something that’s happening in Philadelphia, it’s happening all over the country?

Bambi: Yeah. I started doing playgrounds in Denver. At that time, we were dealing with in Denver school district, they had playing equipment from 1950s. It was predominantly pea gravel surfaces with asphalt. They did have this play equipment in place but it was all outdated and it was no longer meeting safety codes so they had to replace everything.

They didn’t know how to go about doing it. Lois Brink and I, she’s a professor there at the university of Colorado. She spearheaded the Learning Landscapes initiative and she’s now strategic officer, I can’t remember. Chief strategist, that’s he


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