Permission to Play: How the Intergenerational Arts Space (Re)teaches Creative Play to Young and Old

Posted by Jennifer Kulik, Mar 18, 2015 0 comments

I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, in a neighborhood with lots of people my age. When the weather was nice, the neighborhood kids and I would play outside, inventing new games, creating special spaces in trees, and learning how to negotiate our wants and needs with those of others.

Play is an important part of learning and thinking. It helps us make sense of the world, experiment, and negotiate within it. Play:

  1. promotes cognitive, linguistic, physical, and social development;
  2. sparks creativity, innovation, and imagination;
  3. aids in finding new possibilities and solutions, re-inventing and re-creating the world;
  4. helps foster empathy and develop new understandings and connections with others.

Play is an important part of development, but it seems to be waning in importance for both children and adults.

Recently, we have seen articles about parents being arrested for allowing their children to play outside on their own, schools limiting recesses for their pupils, over-scheduled children who run from lesson to lesson with no time for “play dates,” and an increase in the importance of standardized testing, lessening time in the school day for “soft skill” (oh, I detest that term) development, those skills young people need to learn how to listen to and work with (and for) others.

By the time I was in high school, the kids in my neighborhood were no longer playing outside after school. Instead, our schedules were packed with sports practice, jobs, and things that had more “value,” like playing video games or talking on the phone.

208515_352865128153447_1009730686_nMost adults have little creative play in their daily lives; the common attitude is that it’s a waste of time. Even if an adult has children, at a public playground it is not common for that adult to play with their child, and some struggle to know (or remember) how to play with them at all.

Limiting play can have negative effects for children, as well as adults. Regardless of age, limiting play can cause depression, isolationism, fewer positive interactions with people, lack of interest (or ability) to trying something new, and the feeling of “being stuck.”

I believe bringing together adults and children in a safe space where creative play is encouraged can help (re)model play, encourage life long play, bridge generational gaps, and promote cognitive and social development in participants of all ages.

599060_352872221486071_1299022920_nI run a company called Silver Kite Community Arts which is based in Seattle. Silver Kite develops arts programs that connect participants to themselves and each other through the arts. We do this by using life stories as a source for art making, encouraging the sharing of memories (regardless of age) to find common experiences amongst participants, and use these memories to create visual art, music, dance, and theatre works of art.

Although Silver Kite’s practice is rooted in lived experiences, we find ways to encourage participants to artfully tell these stories, playing with them, intertwining them, discovering new ways to inhabit and change them. We start with the familiar (lived experiences) and invite doors and windows to open to new experiences through experimentation by playing together.

Over the last few years, Silver Kite has created several intergenerational programs which have brought together seniors and youth to share memories and create works of art.

IMG_0266As we have implemented these programs, we have also collected data from the participants about their experiences. We have done this through interviews, observations, group discussions, and surveys.

Our research has shown that participants:

  1. watch, learn, and support each other to take risks and try new things;
  2. broaden their self-concepts, self-esteem, and self-confidence through the supported risk-taking. Also:
  3. senior participants noted participating in an art-making experience with youth allowed them to recapture forgotten memories and gave their lives new meaning;
  4. stereotypes about age vanished; and
  5. new relationships formed which continued after the program

Play is an important part of cognitive, social, and physical development for people of all ages. The arts can help foster play, and I believe an intergenerational arts space can help encourage the practice of play across generations.

For more information about Silver Kite and its work, please visit our website: or email us: Works consulted for this blog post available upon request.

Please login to post comments.