Play Benefits Black Kids—These 8 Places Give Them More Access to It

Play offers kids social, emotional, and other advantages but, historically, Black children haven't had equal access to it. These organizations help.

Girls jump roping in an urban play ares

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Black Children Play is an Instagram page that serves as a digital archive and love letter for the liberation of Black kids and expressions of Black joy. The social media page is flooded with smiles of Black children playing with friends, jumping, smiling, and being curious. They joyfully push boundaries and establish a sense of agency. The images symbolize how and why play is necessary for Black children to form their view of the world.

The benefits of play have been highly researched and theorized. Educational community members have cited how children who play in structured/unstructured ways, outdoors, and play through learning new skills show strong social, emotional, and linguistic capabilities. The benefits of play appear to be unmeasurable, further illuminating why all children should have access to play that is carefree, accessible, and representative of their identities. In an era where play is being limited in schools and academic settings to provide more rigor, this shift disproportionately impacts children of color. 

Black children who have faced historical and societal pressures, and oppression need, but often lack access to, safe play spaces. Add the demands of everyday life that many Black parents face and it can be hard to find the time or resources to play intentionally with children. 

Still, in recent years, many parents have picked playful interactions as a form of radical Black parenting and as a means to support their children in expressing their full selves. At the height of COVID-19, more and more Black families began exploring the outdoors, took up sports and hobbies, and tapped into their inner child to foster memories and relationships with their kiddos. 

There are more initiatives now, across the country, writing new narratives for Black families, offering spaces for Black children to explore, develop their identities, and feel liberated. Here are a few of our favorites.

01 of 08

WePlay Training Grounds, New Orleans. Louisiana

WePlay Training Grounds is an inviting and inclusive space that hosts open play for children, from birth to 4 years old, and their caregivers. Highly community-based, the center offers opportunities for parents to connect with one another while learning playful and supportive ways of interacting with their kiddos. At no cost, We Play offers child and family programming, parent learning opportunities, and professional learning opportunities.

02 of 08

Fly Away Isles, Harlem, New York

Fly Away Isles is an imaginative collaborative installation between the Lego Group, the non-profit organization Brotherhood Sister Sol, artist Hebru Brantley, and local children. It is located on West 143rd Street, a colorful outdoor playscape of rockets, volcanoes, and planes. Before the installation was built, children were invited to help design the space by playing and building out what they would want in a playground with Legos.

"For our community, unfortunately, kids have to abandon their childhood way too early. The number of social circumstances that our youth have to face often means they have to take on various responsibilities at an early age, says Jason Warwin, co-founder of BroSis. "So, having places where young people can just be children, just have fun, just play is really important. [It] enables them to just envision and dream and engage with friends in ways we all need to."

For so many Black and brown children, childhood is a fleeting idea and the sense of childhood is compromised due to a number of social circumstances. In collaboration with the Lego Group, Brotherhood Sister Sol has created an accessible installation for the community to play and engage. 

03 of 08

Tank Proof, national

Tank Proof believes swimming is for everyone! The non-profit, founded by brothers Torrence and Thurman Thomas, provides free and accessible swimming classes to children in underserved neighborhoods. Tank Proofs swim programs occur in New York, California, Louisiana, Texas, and Tennessee. While children play in the pool they also are taught survival skills and how to navigate the water in safe and fun ways.

04 of 08

Surf Negra, national

Black women-led, Surf Negra advocates for gender and cultural diversity in the surf world. Surf Negra’s annual program, ¡100 Girls!, introduces young girls of color to the sport of surfing, mentorship, and friendship. With 86 partnering surf camps across 24 states, Surf Negra makes surfing accessible to as many girls of color as possible. 

05 of 08

Woke Kindergarten, virtual

Woke Kindergarten is led by Akiea Gross, an abolitionist, early childhood educator, and cultural organizer. Woke Kindergarten’s initial attempts to create spaces for kids and educators to be liberated, heal, and resist. Akiea’s offerings through Woke Kindergarten are steeped in abolitionist early education and pro-black, queer, and trans liberation. The virtual portal has 60-second texts that break down big concepts for little people, a woke word of the day, and woke read-alouds. Play and education unite through this programming.

06 of 08

Sugar Hill Children’s Museum, Harlem, New York

Sugar Hill Children’s Museum model leverages the intersection of housing, education, and the arts to address discussions around poverty, race, and homelessness in underserved communities. The museum recognizes that young children are natural-born artists. The museum’s space and cultural storytelling inspire the curiosity of young children. Their primary audience is children ages 3-8 years old and the museum focuses on theater, movement, music, film, and visual art as forms of storytelling and play.

07 of 08

Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, Washington, D.C.

Maintaining consistency during transition periods can be hard for families experiencing homelessness. Homeless Children’s Playtime Project attempts to maintain a sense of normalcy, joy, and magic through playspaces at shelters across the Washinton, D.C. area. Volunteers show up for kids 6 months to 12 years old as playmates and mentors in order to create ongoing play opportunities in a systematic and unjust world. The Playtime Project believes that ongoing and consistent play with children can decrease chronic homelessness.

08 of 08

Abundant Beginnings, Berkeley, California

Abundant Beginnings is a Black- and community-run play- and nature-based education initiative. Their founding principles are ancestral practices, radical inclusion, freedom, and social justice. With these principles in mind, Abundant Beginnings runs an annual summer camp for children ages 3-13 with activities like hiking, gardening, skit-making, and climbing trees. During the school year, they run a forest freedom school outdoors that is filled with storytelling, exploring, and chanting.

Explore More

Children have less unstructured free time than ever before, but play is beneficial to their mental health and overall well-being. Read more of Parents’ deep dive on how kids play today—plus tips for caregivers to get involved in—and even lead—the fun.

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