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Piaget and the Playground

Playgrounds are like magical kingdoms where kids can flex their muscles, perfect their balance, and master numerous physical feats. They’re also a fantastic social hub where friendships are forged and teamwork is built. In addition, playgrounds are sensory wonderlands filled with the thrill of spinning, the joy of jumping, and unique tactile experiences.

While these physical, social, and sensory benefits are widely recognized, there’s another side to playgrounds that doesn’t get as much limelight. Cognitive play, as theorized by Jean Piaget, is equally important to incorporate into a playground. This ensures that there’s plenty of opportunities for functional play, constructive play, symbolic play, and rule-based games. In this course, we’ll dive into the benefits of these play types and how you can weave them into your playground.

By the end of this course, you’ll be able to:

Recognize Jean Piaget’s types of cognitive play.
Explain why playgrounds are the ultimate training ground for functional play.
List five creative ways to incorporate symbolic play into playground activities.

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About this course

What will I learn?

Jean Piaget was a world-renowned psychologist known for his studies on children’s play and cognitive learning. Although his research only lasted until his death in 1980, Piaget’s works remain highly influential to this day. Playground designers still reference Piaget when designing a park of their own.

In this course, Mara Kaplan of Let Kids Play gives a synopsis of Piaget and his research, particularly how it relates to children’s play. In addition, she outlines Piaget’s four stages of cognitive play.

  • Functional Play: Any repetitive action which a child finds fun is functional play. Functional play is the first type of play children experience, starting in infancy. On the playground, functional play includes motor skills like running, jumping, sliding, climbing, or stacking objects.
  • Constructive Play: Uses objects in an organized way to create something. Constructive play is most often seen in the classroom, where children experiment with learning materials. Outdoors, functional play includes activities such as a water table, art easel, or building blocks.
  • Symbolic Play: Happens when a child starts to use objects to represent or symbolize other objects. Symbolic play is widely regarded as the most sophisticated stage of play. It can be incorporated on a playground through playhouses, activity panels, or theming.
  • Games with Rules: Children follow or create a set of rules to reach a shared objective in a game. To be successful, children must have the ability to remember the rules and regulate their behavior. Games with rules include tag, hide and go seek, or capture the flag.

Who is my instructor?

Mara Kaplan is the Founder of Let Kids Play, a consulting firm that partners with manufacturers, communities, and parents to develop projects and strategies that provide optimal play opportunities for children.

Recognized nationally as an expert in designing play spaces, Mara is a committed advocate for inclusive play. As an educator and parent to a child with a disability, she holds a 25-year track record in designing, building, and managing both indoor and outdoor play environments. Her expertise also extends to play spaces and toys for children with and without disabilities.

In 1995, Mara, and five other parents raising children with disabilities, identified the significance of play in their children’s learning. They were determined to build a space where children of varying abilities could play together, leading to the founding of the Center for Creative Play. Mara served as its Executive Director for seven years before embarking on her journey with Let Kids Play.

Mara’s educational background includes a degree in elementary education and a minor in gifted education from Indiana University (Bloomington, IN). She later acquired her MBA, specializing in non-profit management, from Boston University.

Mara’s endeavors have earned her the Shore-Whitehill award for her efforts in enhancing the lives of people with special needs. Her work has been showcased in publications such as, the Wall Street Journal, Be the Change, and the Social Enterprise Reporter.

Who is this course for?

The great thing about our courses is that they’re designed for all levels of experience. Whether you’re a parent on a PAC planning your first playground, or a landscape architect with decades of experience, there’s always something new to learn. Plus, our courses offer a quick way to stay up to date with the most recent trends in playground design.

Our courses take into account multiple groups and audiences, all of whom have different needs for their playground. A few groups that will benefit from taking our courses include:

  • Parents: Parent volunteers will learn the most important aspects to consider when planning their playground project.
  • Teachers: Teachers will learn about the educational benefits of play and how to incorporate them on the playground.
  • Landscape Architects: Architects will learn innovative design ideas that they may use in their upcoming projects.
  • Parks & Recreation: Parks professionals will learn about recent advances in safety, inclusion, and sustainability.
  • Property Managers: Property managers will learn how playgrounds can attract families to live in their neighbourhood.
Mara Kaplan, course instructor for "Piaget and the Playground."

Mara Kaplan

Founder, Let Kids Play

Mara Kaplan is a nationally recognized expert in inclusive play, with 25 years of experience designing outdoor environments. She is the driving force behind Let Kids Play, a consulting firm that works with parents and communities to create accessible play spaces.

More Courses?

We’re glad that you enjoyed this course! If you’re looking to learn more about play, check out our full collection of course videos.

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Playgrounds 101

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