A reverence for learning and respect for teachers are deep-rooted Vietnamese traditions. Education is a defining force for many kids and their families. Achieving strong academic results from an early age in preparation for advancement within a rigorous educational system is a cultural touchstone. Play can be seen as an outlier, an activity that distracts kids, leading them astray from the main event – schooling.
Enter Think Playgrounds, a Hanoi-based social enterprise, that is shifting public perceptions around play and design. In neighbourhoods across Hanoi they are working at the community level using local materials, recycled bric à brac and volunteer labour to create a wider range of play opportunities for kids in public spaces.
Source – DIY Urbanism in Hanoi
Think Playgrounds is shining a light across the entire play spectrum accenting the symbiotic nature of play and learning. The cognitive, physical, imaginative and social dimensions of play are a virtuous cycle that enhances a resilient learning ethos.
The social enterprise’s co-founders, architect Chu Kim Đức and journalist Nguyễn Tiêu Quốc Đạt, started their playground odyssey in 2014. Since then five teams have put in almost 4,000 hours to build nearly 60 playgrounds. Their good work is being noticed. The Think Playgrounds citizen activism and community engagement are featured in a video produced by the grass roots Towards the Human City project.
The Vietnamese dynamos for community based play have also been singled out by the Bernard van Leer Foundation based in The Netherlands. They were one of 26 winners from 18 countries in the global Urban95 Challenge for their submission of a project to create an under-5s playground in Hanoi.
The playground opened in November 2017. As the Foundation reported, “initial scepticism from locals about the choice of materials for the playground – such as timber, rope and used tyres – seems now to have been fully overcome.”
And so grows the footprint – another neighbourhood, more recruits to the concept of public spaces for play. Prior to Think Playgrounds arrival on the scene, public playgrounds were few and far between in Hanoi.
We’re young, we’re born in Hanoi. We see some of the problems for the city. We had to do something. Đức’s daughter is in grade three and she is a great motivation for both of us. Getting involved in helping to make public spaces for play has changed me a lot.
Nguyễn Tiêu Quốc Đạt
Now the focus is leaning to inclusive playgrounds for all abilities. Think Playgrounds will continue to work with communities, private benefactors, like-minded organizations such as Playground Ideas and the media to get the word out.
Their most recent project involves loose parts play with support from the Goethe Institute and the Institut Français (Hanoi). Over the course of several months there will be a variety of educational activities in addition to a loose parts play event. Among the goals for these initiatives: involving up to 1,000 parents in events; and, creating a community of architects and urban planners involved in designing playgrounds.
There is something good brewing in Vietnam. The Think Playgrounds bottom up, citizen focused engagement in Hanoi is a powerful change agent introducing new perspectives on play by working directly with residents in neighbourhoods across the city. There are valuable learnings for those of us in higher income countries who may have the benefit of greater resources but less grass roots citizen engagement.
One last note on these collaborators par excellence. I’m happy to learn that they have a Canadian connection too. A research project – DIY Urbanism in Hanoi – led out of the University of Montreal takes a close look at why we should all perhaps Think Playgrounds…..
Think Playgrounds workshop, Hanoi. Source – DIY Urbanism in Hanoi