Shared Spaces: Planet Play’s Pop-Up Lab

A new shared space for play and learning has popped up at the corner of 55thand Troost in Kansas City, Mo.  Planet Play’s Pop-Up Play Lab is located at 5508 Troost Avenue, and is the first in what the organization hopes to be a series of mobile play sites across the metropolitan area.  Since 2012, Planet Play has worked to create mobile play resources for families and communities who do not have easy access to creative play experiences.

“We focus on play-desert communities in order to create safe and accessible learning and play environments,” said Lauranne Hess, Executive Director of Planet Play. “The concept of being mobile helps us bring play to families.”

Planet Play opened the prototype Pop-Up Play Lab in December 2018 when the previous tenants of the 5508 Troost space, Blue Star Motorcycles, moved to a larger location. The property owners saw an opportunity to donate the space to Planet Play until the property was leased.

“We believe in Planet Play’s mission of serving children and families across Kansas City,” said Lance Carlton, Co-Managing Partner with UC-B Properties. “The Play Lab brings people to Troost and continues to activate the neighborhood for good.”

The idea of mobile play labs came from the research of distributed site-networks in other communities. In 2013, Planet Play conducted its own survey of families in diverse communities across Greater Kansas City, asking them what they expected when it came to children’s play. The study found that over 80 percent of parents would not travel over 20 minutes for a play experiences, and 60 percent of families would not travel over 10 minutes for play.

“That’s the joy of being mobile,” said Ms. Hess. “We can go to where the interest is.”

For Planet Play, creative play is not all fun and games.  When communities do not have access to safe play environments, unstructured play time is replaced with screen time, like television, tablets and video games. While these activities can be valuable to a child’s development, research shows that unstructured, child-directed play helps young children develop critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills for a lifetime of success.

The space at 5508 Troost has also allowed Planet Play to expand opportunities for community partnerships in the region.  Ms. Hess said that neighboring business owners have stopped by to make Planet Play feel welcomed and learn about the Pop-Up Play Lab.  This semester students from the University of Kansas will also pilot an adult play program, which aims to study the effects of corporate team-building and play for adults, at the 5508 Troost space.

Planet Play is always on the lookout for temporary spaces as it continues to create a network of play sites across Greater Kansas City.  To learn more, get involved or to donate a space, contact Executive Director Lauranne Hess at lauranne@planetplay.org or visit planetplaykc.org.


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