Radiating the Power of Play

What if kids played more?

Photo of Laura Nichols-Endres
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Written by

Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Every day we see the radiant power of play. A little girl in the museum’s maker space confidently uses a real sewing machine for the first time, stitching her own tote to the surprise and delight of her cautious mom. A single dad, responding to a simple text reminder, plays a word game with his son and brings more reading and joy into their lives. These are some of the bright moments that light our way as we strive to help our community become happier, healthier and more innovative.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)



Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Minnesota

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

St. Paul, MN

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Minnesota

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Rochester

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Play is declining. Kids today play an average of 8 hours less per week than kids in the 1980s. Why? One reason is that play is often viewed as “just fun” – a frivolous distraction from “real learning.” Parents feel pressured to see their children achieve success, so play gets squeezed in favor of worksheets, tests and lessons. Yet research shows that some of the richest, most long-lasting learning happens through play. Play truly is learning.

Our solution is for children to play more. We want to reverse the decades-long decline in the time kids spend exploring, experimenting and imagining. We aim to realize this vision by championing a movement that elevates the power of play. We are working to encourage parents and the broader community to understand and support the lifelong learning that happens when children are given the freedom to think for themselves, learn from mistakes and pursue their own interests.

Our efforts take many forms, large and small. All show tremendous and sustainable promise. We have inspired families and organizations across Minnesota to contribute to the collective power of play through a statewide “Day of Play.” We have seen how seemingly small steps can have a big impact, including the positive results of a pilot text messaging program that encouraged parents to engage with their children in playful ways.

We know that play helps children thrive and makes their lives richer and more purposeful. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “for children who are under-resourced to reach their highest potential, it is essential that parents, educators and pediatricians recognize the importance of lifelong benefits that children gain from play.”

We also know that many parents are eager to bring more play into their families lives. Minnesota Children's Museum recently conducted a public opinion poll of parenting adults -- and found that 76 percent said they wished kids had more time to play. We're doing all we can to help them!

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Can little nudges via text message get parents to play more with their kids? Answer: Yes! Minnesota Children’s Museum conducted a pilot text messaging program involving low-income parents with pre-school children. The goal of Text2Learn was to promote the importance of early reading and encourage parents to increase literacy activities with their preschoolers. Evaluation results showed that the texts were well-received by this group of parents. Parents reported engaging in more literacy activities with their children after receiving the texts, and appreciated getting reminders about activities. “Some days I’m so busy that getting a text to remind me to hug my child today means so much to me and especially to them,” one parent said.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

The museum’s Text2Learn pilot program demonstrated measurable impact on parents’ behavior. Evaluators from the University of Minnesota found that participants increased literacy activities with their children by more than 8 percent over a 12-week period. The conclusion: Text messages are a feasible and appealing intervention strategy. We see additional validation and potential for text messaging to expand its reach and impact. As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated in 2014: “Text messaging can remove traditional geographic and economic barriers to access to health information and services. These interventions have the potential to improve health knowledge, behaviors, and outcomes and ultimately, to reduce disparities. A substantial body of research has shown that text messaging programs can bring about behavior change.”

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • over $5mil

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Text messaging is an efficient and effective way to affect change. Once the technical and administrative systems are set up, the message delivery costs per participant are negligible. At $0.01 per message, a participant can receive 3 messages per week for $1.56 per year. In contrast, programs to provide high-quality child care or home visits cost much more. Texting programs are highly scalable as well, due to fixed administrative costs.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Many organizations address disparities in early childhood, particularly around health and readiness for school. Our approach is different. Rather than focusing on formal education systems, we are working to support parents and other adults in a child’s life. Play is a freely available resource that has a profound impact on a child’s early development. Parenting adults can play a critical role in supporting and enhancing their child’s play, ensuring that the benefits of open-ended, child-driven play are fully realized. By using our reach to families across the entire state, we can have an impac

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Play is a big deal. In fact, there’s evidence from a noted study in Jamaica that coaching parents to play more with their child has a bigger impact on well-being than providing extra food. We know that through play children develop cognitive, emotional, social and physical skills. Yet “more play” as an effective intervention in early-childhood development seldom gets significant attention. Thankfully, there is a shift underway, a growing realization that championing play sets the stage for ensuring the next generation’s success in the classroom, the workplace and beyond.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 33.3%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 0%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 66.7%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 33.3%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 33.3%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 33.3%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 33.3%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 0%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 66.7%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 33.3%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 0%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 66.7%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 50%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 50%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 100%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 100%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 50%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Fred Cardenas

Love the texting idea as a way to reach parents, in the moment, creating opportunities. Text messages can bypass the barriers of transportation difficulties and language.  Now perhaps regular text messages to teachers to integrate increases in rates of play in an environment where play has gradually decreased.

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