If you were a parent in Central Park in NYC this Sunday, you weren’t alone. Many of the parents in the park this weekend were doing more than just hanging around. They came for the “Ultimate Block Party,” an event created through a collaboration of academic powerhouses like Kathy-Hirsh Pasek of Temple University and companies from LEGO to Crayola and non-profits like Kaboom! lent their expertise and experience and talents from Sesame Street, The Electric Company and Radio Disney performed. But, as the “playbook” handed out at the event affirmed, Ultimate Block Party was anything but childish. “Play is serious business” was the mantra that made this more than just a play date. Instead, its creators and participants hoped to show parents the meaning behind tasks like building towers out of foam blocks and cooking at the Goddard School’s Kid Café. Signs reminded parents that what might seem like silliness can actually convey the “Six C’s” to their kids: communication, collaboration, content, critical thinking, creative innovation and confidence.
And parents came! To be fair, so did students, teachers and other academics who wanted to witness this attempt to bridge the academic and applied space in such a big way. Fans of Gordon, from Sesame (yep, it’s the same Gordon who was on when you were a kid) came out in droves, but so did fans of the writers and authors who signed books about parenting and infant cognition. But the fact that families braved the big crowd on a sunny fall Sunday shows that there’s something sticky about this idea of seeing child’s play as important.
As marketers, it often feels like we have to choose between education and fun. Between good for you and good tasting. Or between entertaining and earnest. But ask these preschoolers if they mind learning and you’ll probably get a blank look. Ask the tween boys who participated in the RIDEMAKERZ “Rally Race Quest” (check out this organization for yourself!) if engineering was boring and you’d probably get a glare. Or ask the parents who’ve visited the website, stocked with primary sources and white papers on play if they mind getting a little bit more knowledge on the work that their children are doing, and you’ll seem quite out of touch. Today’s parents and kids would agree that play is productive and that putting in the effort to create opportunities for play is a priority for them – and should be for you.