Healthy play and development
We framed the design process for Hello Baby with the pioneering work of child development specialist Bob Hughes, who categorized the 16 types of play that children need for healthy development. These include socio-dramatic play, which re-enacts the real experiences of children, such as having a cookout in Washington Park; Social Play, where children practice following social rules such as working cooperatively on the art wall; Dramatic Play, where children may use puppets to work through difficult life experiences they have observed such as an event on the street; and Locomotor Play, in which children move in any direction for movement’s sake, such as sliding down the slide or playing peek-a-boo.
Our work began with a community Play Inventory that identified existing community play amenities, identified unmet needs, and prioritized opportunities. The resulting space responds to the entire spectrum of young children’s need for play, in a space that is universally appealing, inspiring, and supports a child’s development in self-regulation and executive function.
Hello Baby is a Yes-space. This space answers, “Yes” to a child’s need to “do it myself.” Yes, you can hang up your own coat on a hook you can reach. Yes, you can fill your own water cup to paint art right on the big slate wall. Yes, you can practice toileting on a potty just your size. Yes, you can put on a puppet show in the window for the audience at the bus stop outside.
Connections between caregivers, children and volunteers/staff
The Hello Baby space is full of delightful surprises designed to spark healthy engagement between caregivers, children, and staff and volunteers. These moments of discovery are intended to ignite creative play and give care-givers and shy little ones an “easy-in” into the imaginative world. This provides a scaffold for conversation and play and creates a culture of joy that reinforces appropriate behavior.
There are dimensional clouds above, a beehive with a wheeley-bee ride-on toy, a peek-a-boo mirror waiting to be discovered in a soft nook, and friendly animals peeking out around the room. Discovery activates the critical “play and seeking systems” of the brain that are typically not exercised at home. This helps with development of the frontal lobes – the part of the brain involved in cognitive function, social intelligence, and focused, goal-oriented behaviors.
The cozy nook at Hello Baby is designed to facilitate social interaction and address the social isolation of young parents and care-givers. The space is intentionally cozy to create conversation. The infant toys are stored on one wall of the nook so that parents have a casual ice-breaker to start conversation by asking to pass a toy. The cushions are soft to encourage families to linger and the bench is at the right height to be an appealing perch for an older or disabled caregiver. Bringing the babies into the front window for tummy time will bring a smile to passerby and provide positive feedback to engaged parents. Generating comradery among care-givers can refresh the spirit, and in a broader impact start to connect local resources and strengthen the community.
We have a beautiful Donor Wall for Hello Baby. The theme is Nature and each donor is recognized on a butterfly perched in a tree. There are peek-a-boo forest friends hidden among the trees to make it an interactive play element for parents and children. The message we want to convey is that donors are the sustaining roots, that Hello Baby provides structure (the tree) for healthy and engaged parent-child interaction, and the butterflies represent the soaring confidence and independence of children who have been given this opportunity to develop through play.