Providing Play in a Pandemic

With playgrounds off limits, Philadelphia’s Studio Ludo gets creative for low-income families.

By Kim O’Connell

Materials were made possible in part through thousands of dollars’ worth of donations. Image courtesy Studio Ludo.

In downtown Philadelphia, a colorful city development project is under way. The buildings are bright blue and orange, the gabled roofs patterned with triangles and chevrons. The front doors are sunflower yellow, and residents seem happy and content—at least as content as little plastic dinosaurs can be.

The project is Tube Town, a “city” made of toilet paper tubes, construction paper, markers, and glue. Tube Town is one of Studio Ludo’s new Play Packs, a resource created for families during the COVID-19 crisis, and the brainchild of the firm’s executive director, Meghan Talarowski, ASLA. In addition to providing 30 downloadable play and craft projects online—all imaginatively staged and photographed, as with the addition of the little dinos—the firm has worked with local community organizations to distribute play materials to families in need. “We thought, since we’re not doing outside projects right now, how do we bring play to families?” Talarowski says.

Studio Ludo is a research and design nonprofit that specializes in innovative playgrounds and “play terrains.” When Philadelphia went into lockdown, sending kids home full-time with working parents and temporarily halting landscape projects, Talarowski decided to make use of her design skills and create a play resource for families.

Now available as free downloads on the firm’s website, the Play Packs include a DIY bird feeder, toilet paper tube butterflies, egg carton ladybugs, and pipe-cleaner spectacles, among other projects. The firm also coordinates with organizations associated with food distribution to provide actual play materials to families who are not as likely to have materials at home. The project aligns with the firm’s commitment to advocacy and social justice in Philadelphia, where about 25 percent of families live below the federal poverty line.

“We’re in a low-income community in [South Philadelphia],” Talarowski says. “If you’ve lost your job, you’re not going to go out and get your kids bubbles and sidewalk chalk. Keeping kids occupied is super helpful for parents and caregivers, and we know that the way kids cope with crisis is through play. So we thought, let’s bring the basics of play into people’s homes.”

In two months, 2,600 Play Packs were distributed across 12 neighborhoods. By early summer, the project had helped raise almost $5,000 in donations, $5,000 in in-kind labor, and $2,000 in donated materials. The studio used the hashtag #SpreadTheJoyNotTheVirus.

The studio’s latest project is its Adventure Boxes, the result of a partnership with Greensgrow, a local urban farm and demonstration garden that provides play and learning kits that bring children closer to nature. Boxes include tools, an activity deck, a journal, stickers, a plant, seeds, and more. As Talarowski puts it, “It’s a summertime care package.”

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