Category Archives: PlayMade Energy

Round and Round, Up and Down Brightens Up Africa

Play is power. It’s the power to generate electricity, the power to pump water. The right designs can make play double up as work for up and down, see-sawers and spinny spin roundabouters.

Empower Playgrounds Inc.

In Ghana West Africa, Empower Playgrounds are as they say, ‘lighting the world with recess’. All the tireless playground energy is captured to burn bright as sun falls into night.

For the kids it is a whirl of fun and laughter. See for yourself.

This is exactly what Ben Markham, a retired Vice-President of Engineering, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, had in mind when he started play to around with an idea that turned out to be very illuminating.

Find more about Ben, his team, Empower Playground Inc. and their partners here. I’m sure this transformative play for light would have received the Kwame Nkrumah and E.F Schumacher seals of approval…

PlayMade Energy

The Energee-Saw, pioneered by the UK’s Daniel Sheridan, was initially tested in Uganda in 2008. A revised design was tested in Malawi. This video shows PlayMade Energy’s Energee-Saw in action PlayMadeEnergy in the world’s least electrified continent.

Kids will be able to study longer as a direct result of their own hard play. It may take a village to raise a child but apparently it takes a child to light the way.


I was introduced to the PlayPump earlier this week and thought it was a marvelous piece of utilitarian fun. That’s sure what it looks like in this 2008 report from the National Geographic Society.

It turns out that an appropriate technology that took regions of Africa, aid organizations and foundations by storm wasn’t in fact the best fit, the most efficient, or least expensive solution to help promote and create water security.

There is some difference of opinion now as to the PlayPump’s efficiency and efficacy. Many financial supporters have backed away from the project and villagers have requested a return to the handpump.

PBS did a documentary on Frontline World in June 2010. It’s available for viewing here.

Harnessing kids’ energy through play is a great idea. Let’s hope it continues and benefits the kids who are providing the fun equity.

P.S. – thanks to Neil who got me thinking about writing this post.

Playgrounds in the News

My geek factor is in the ascendant. As a budding playgroundologist I root around tracking down interesting tidbits about playgrounds – people, places, ideas, events and happenings. It’s a challenge to sate my curiosity.

Playgrounds are not driving the news agenda but they are registering blips here and there. Subscriptions to web based news alerts occasionally turn up jewels. Some stories resonate longer than others because they’re imbued with humour, or hope. Others have legs because they report on ingenuity, controversy, or tragedy. From time to time, PlayGroundology will post a selection of these stories for your reading/viewing pleasure.

Pigs on the Loose

Readers may be tempted to say in a pig’s eye about this first offering. Local media captured visual proof of, well not flying pigs, but marauding porcines, toughs who closed down a school playground in Stokesdale, North Carolina.

Seems like five pigs with a pack mentality were on the loose and whooping it up in this small agricultural community last fall. There was plenty of excitement for the kids at Stokesdale Elementary as they watched the porkers grunting and gallivanting around the property.

The pigs on the loose scenario was a first for Principal Amy Koonce. Kids at the school were kept indoors while the porkers, snouts in exploratory mode, had the run of the playground and surrounding area. WGHP TV’s Nicole Ferguson was there to record the freedom foraging for posterity – roll video.

Playgroundology contacted Nicole, now at WTVF in Nashville, Tennessee, to get her take on the playground pigs. “The pigs just had so much personality. They came right out of the woods to greet us. There they were all at once in a little pack sniffing around, right at our feet. It’s like they knew we weren’t there to capture them.”

Nicole and her crew got the assignment because one of their scheduled stories for the evening fell through. The playground pigs resonated with the viewing public generating lots of traffic on the station website. The day after the story’s initial broadcast, Nicole was at home packing for her move to Nashville. She heard ‘pigs’ and ‘North Carolina’ coming from the TV and then CNN anchor Tony Harris laughing away. CNN had picked up the story and were looping it every hour. It was all in a day’s work for Nicole. “It was hilarious. We couldn’t stop laughing when we were out there.”

There have been no further headlines for these fateful pigs since those heady days in September. It seems, for now at least, their playground days are done. Perhaps they’re busy with more predictable fare – heading to market, outsmarting wolves, or being best friends to the likes of Pooh.

Intrusive Parenting at the Playground

At Psychology Today, Stanton Peele covers a wide variety of subject matter in his Addiction in Society blog. A January post takes aim at parental overprotectiveness and micro-management at the playground..


It’s a short piece peppered with satire and worth the read if only for purposes of a self-assessment. Where are you on the anxiety – permissive scale when it comes to playground safety, child directed interaction with other kids, praise for playground feats?

Stanton provides six examples of less than desirable behaviours. I found myself nodding away in the affirmative to three of the six as behaviours I have occasionally indulged. No doubt many of us have fallen prey to one or more of these. It’s helpful to see them in reality check black and white, be aware and have a laugh at our shortcomings.

Do over coddled playground kids encounter more neuroses than kids left to swing, jump and run free? Read How To Make Your Child a Psychological Wreck – The Playground Manual and judge for yourself.

The Playground is Electric

In 2008, Daniel Sheridan won ₤5,500 to develop the idea of a see-saw that generates power. The BBC reported on the Coventry University design student’s innovation and his plans to test a prototype in Uganda.

Daniel was inspired to design the product following a volunteer placement in Kenya. The 23-year-old student saw a real opportunity linked to harnessing the energy and exuberance of children at play. Back in the UK he applied his research skills and came up with the idea of generating power through specially designed playground equipment.

The concept may seem like just a novelty in areas where the power grid is a given, a background hum of electric juice that few people think twice about. That’s not the case in many rural parts of the developing world. There is great potential to bring affordable power to communities that have very little, or no electrical power infrastructure at all. Daniel, as he told the BBC, has a dream. “Ultimately I would love to design a whole playground of different pieces of equipment that could generate enough electricity to power a whole village.”

Read the full BBC item here. PlayGroundology will be contacting Daniel and PlayMade Energy in the coming weeks to see how the young innovator’s journey to play power is progressing.

That’s it for the inaugural Playgrounds in the News. There will be four or five editions per year. Drop us a line if you come across something of interest.

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

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