Playgrounds can be more than just a place to play

By Jane Park Woo, deputy director, Too Small to Fail

Today, President Bill Clinton will join the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail initiative and partners in Baltimore to unveil our 83rd “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” themed playground featuring early literacy messages.

More than a place to play — these playgrounds meet kids, parents, and families in the everyday places they visit with critical information on how language-rich interactions like talking, reading, and singing are critical to their young children’s brain development.

Research tells us that a young child’s brain develops at a very rapid pace. The early years are a critical time for children to begin learning and listening, but unfortunately almost 60 percent of American children start kindergarten unprepared, lagging behind their peers in critical language and literacy skills.

Luckily, research also tells us that simple, everyday interactions with young children — like describing objects seen during a walk or bus ride, singing songs, or sharing stories — can build their vocabularies, prepare them for school, and lay a strong foundation for lifelong learning.

That’s why we started Too Small to Fail — to support parents and caregivers with information and tools to talk, read and sing with their young children from birth. A joint initiative of the Clinton Foundation and the Opportunity Institute, we are leading a public awareness and action campaign called “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” to highlight the critical role parents and caregivers play in promoting their children’s early brain and language development.

We work through local trusted messengers like pediatricians and faith leaders, along with community and business leaders to weave our messages into the fabric of communities across the country. We also work to meet parents where they are by providing them with information and resources when they are at the laundromat, the diaper banks, the grocery store, the library, or the playground.

And that brings us to today. In 2015, Too Small to Fail partnered with nonprofit organization Shane’s Inspiration and playground manufacturer Landscape Structures to create a CGI Commitment to Action to develop new playgrounds across the country that incorporate prompts encouraging families to talk, read, and sing together during play time. Since we announced this commitment, Too Small to Fail has integrated its messages into 83 playgrounds across the country — including the one we are celebrating today.

Before and after photos of our first “Talking is Teaching” themed playground at Sepulveda Park in Los Angeles, CA — developed in partnership with Shane’s Inspiration and Landscape Structures.
Early Head Start educators in Mississippi Delta using the “Talking is Teaching” playground panels to prompt vocabulary-rich conversations with young children.
An older sister using “Talking is Teaching” bilingual panels in English/Spanish to share conversations about the sea with her younger brother. This fully inclusive playground at Jackie Tatum/Harvard Recreational Center was developed by Shane’s Inspiration and Too Small to Fail for children of all abilities.
“Talking is Teaching” panels surrounding a playground in Minneapolis where Too Small to Fail has launched a citywide campaign with the Office of Mayor Betsy Hodges to promote children’s early brain and language development.
The first early health and physical activity themed “Talking is Teaching” playground — developed by Clinton Foundation’s initiatives Too Small to Fail and Clinton Health Matters.

The Sollers Point playground and library represent Too Small to Fail’s first message integration in the City of Baltimore — and 83rd installation across the country. Together with the Baltimore County Public Libraries, this playground will mark a first step in a comprehensive effort to disseminate Too Small to Fail’s materials and resources through Baltimore County Public Libraries and the community at-large. In addition to 1,000 books that will be donated today, parents and caregivers will also see Too Small to Fail’s posters and resources inside the Sollers Point branch and additional branches throughout Baltimore County in the months ahead.

Too Small to Fail is so proud to partner with the Baltimore County Public Library, the Foundation for Baltimore County Public Libraries, and community-based organizations across the country as they work to support and empower parents of young children in their daily lives.

To learn more about what these playgrounds can mean for communities, read this article in The Atlantic.

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