New Initiatives Grant Final Report

“Community Playdate: An Anji Play-based Outreach Pilot”

Please provide a brief narrative explaining your project and its outcomes.

Activities, Results, and Accomplishments

The pilot season of Community Playdate was an overall success. We provided eight 2.5 hour programs in partnership with the Town of Clay Department of Parks and Recreation, a total of 20 hours of opportunity for free, child-directed play. 74 individual children and 46 individual adults attended throughout the course of the summer, with many families attending at least 2 play sessions. Combined attendance statistics for the summer: 135 children, 79 adults.

Attendees ranged from ages 1.5 to 12. Despite the fact that we provided ample chances for risky play, there were very few even minor injuries; in fact, we did not make use of a single band-aid or ice pack.

Obstacles and Changes for Future Programs

  • Allowing children the chance to take physical risks was a surprisingly easy sell, and something that most parent attendees seem to understand already to some degree. Allowing children the equally-important freedom to navigate social/emotional risk and interpersonal disputes was much more difficult for parents. There was a direct conflict between allowing children freedom to solve their own problems in a safe space, and the social pressure to have a child that was well-behaved and well-socialized. In a drop-in setting where there were varying levels of buy-in to the principles of Anji Play, this conflict was hard for parents to navigate. In the future, we’ll work with other community-based iterations of Anji Play to address this very real conflict.
  • Encouraging reflection in a drop-in/casual setting is challenging. Most attendees preferred to play until the last possible second rather than stop to reflect, and it was also difficult to get parents to reflect in a measurable/documentable way. For future events, we will make the following changes:
    • More concise informational materials for adults. We handed out Reflection Journals which explained Anji Play principles and provided guided reflection exercises, but most parents seemed to ignore these in favor of observing their children (as they probably should!). For a drop-in/casual setting, we need something shorter that can also point adults to opportunities for more in-depth reflection.
    • For children, more engaging opportunities for drawing, writing, and telling play stories. This could include interviews, opportunities for them to document themselves via photo or video, or more exciting art materials (e.g., a giant communal whiteboard as opposed to individual paper/markers).
  • Unofficial materials have limits. Although the unofficial materials were used with great vigor, the benefit of official Anji Play materials became obvious within the first few sessions. Attendees did an amazing job of combing the provided materials into more and more complicated play patterns each week. However, there were inherent limits to how the unofficial materials could be used and combined safely. Contrast the forts and structures in the “Community Playdate Photos” file with some of the forts and structures that Wild Rumpus participants were able to build with official materials ( This makes a great case for pursuing funding or partnerships to obtain official materials.
  • Some play materials went unused. There were certain materials that we purchased (specifically, sand toys and slacklines) that we were not able to fully utilize. The sand pit (repurposed volleyball court) was not available as anticipated due to park maintenance constraints – some of the sand toys were used for water play activities, but others were not suited to this purpose. Although we were able to use the slacklines for several sessions, there turned out to be only one suitable slackline setup location that was close to the play area. To prevent tree bark damage from repeated installations, we opted not to use the slacklines for all the sessions. For future programs, we will focus more on materials that can be used independent of program location.

What is the most remarkable accomplishment or finding of your project?

Although this is not at all unique finding, the most striking thing we observed was the degree to which open-ended materials and child-directed activities meant deep engagement for a wide variety of ages and abilities.

To quote responses from two parent attendees:
“At first my sons (9) and (12) didn’t want to play, but later really enjoyed their time, as much as my 4 year old!!”
“My favorite part was that both of my children could participate in the activity together. One is 3 and the other 8. It is good for children to work together with all age groups.”

Though I try to design our traditional library programs to accommodate a wide range of ages, I have yet to plan another program that was equally engaging for both a preschooler and a preteen. Even if we do not end up pursuing official Anji Play programming further, the power, flexibility, and wide appeal of open-ended materials and child-directed activities will inform many of my purchasing and planning decisions in years to come.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

Based on the results of this pilot program we will continue to pursue Anji Play programming, official materials, and training going forward. The timeline is still in flux due to funding and other programming commitments.

Some possible next steps include:

  • A pilot series of indoor/library-hosted events slated for Spring 2019.
  • A repeat series of outdoor summer events hosted in partnership with the Town of Clay or another area parks and rec entity.
  • Identifying funders and partners for the purchase of official Anji Play materials. The materials are not available for public purchase, not currently manufactured in the US, and very bulky, so the cost for a full set can range $20,000-30,000 (this includes international shipping). This is a tall order, but as the materials are designed for intensive and daily use in an outdoor setting, there should be little in the way of maintenance and upkeep costs after purchase. If we can find a local transport method and address liability concerns fully, we would strongly consider loaning these materials to other libraries, recreation agencies, and early childhood education agencies in the area.
  • Identifying funding sources or sponsorship for future Anji Play leadership training and certification. AnjiPlay World is in the process of registering its first cohort of leadership trainees, who will receive 500 hours of training (including stateside site visits) beginning Spring 2019.

Nicole Hershberger

Youth Services Librarian, NOPL at Cicero

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