General, Playspace

Helping parents explore the power of play

Horizons for Homeless Children and Boston Children’s Museum joined together to explore ways of supporting families living in shelter in a partnership funded by Eastern Bank titled, Empowering Play. The goal of the project was to bring together the organizations’ unique strengths to develop, test, and share resources to support parents and children through playful experiences. 

In the first year of the two-year project, the organizations piloted the Powerful Playtime playgroups, a five-week hands-on parent and child playgroup emphasizing the importance of play for families living in shelter. Each family who participated in the playgroup received a kit with simple toys and tip sheets offering inspiration for how to engage in play together. 

After a year of testing and improving the playgroups, then creating and leading in-person training for 100+ staff and volunteers about the importance of play and ways to support it, the team decided to bring the collaboration to life online. Together, Horizons and Boston Children’s Museum translated the curriculum into a video series that could be widely shared to families from all different backgrounds.  

To see the video resources from this project in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole, visit the Powerful Playtimes Website: 

As the migrant crisis intensified, the Horizons Playspace team recognized these new resources could also help families with children under the age of six living in hotel and motel shelters across the state, who lacked toys, spaces, and ways to engage in play. And, as such, the final piece of the project was to create modified kits of toys and parent resources that the Horizons and Museum teams offered to families at hotel and motel shelters during drop-in playdates.

“The introduction of this final program [at a hotel-based shelter] was a special day for the Playspace team, one of those days where it all makes sense, and everything comes together in the way we hoped,” said Lynne Gaines, Horizons’ Program Director of Playspace, “It was a day filled with the joy of childhood and meaningful connection with parents.” 

English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole speaking staff were available during the playdates to engage and play with families in their native languages. The team showed parents how to use the tip sheets and access the videos in the language of their choice using QR codes. 

“Being stuck in the room all day is very hard with two young children not having anywhere to go other than the shelter room,” shared a mom living in the shelter, “but I loved watching my children play and meeting other parents.” 

Over two afternoons, the team handed out over 170 Powerful Playtimes kits for families to continue using on their own. 

Horizons and Museum staff were excited to be able to offer resources for play to families because play is the very best way for babies and young children to develop and grow. And when adults and children play together, they can connect and build a strong, positive relationship.  

“Playing together offers parents the opportunity to support their children’s development and see themselves as being successful in this role. It builds strong parent-child bonds that help build healthy, positive, and joyful relationships… in all families!” said Robin Meisner, Senior Director of Exhibits and Research at Boston Children’s Museum. 

While this two-year project has come to a close, both organizations are excited to continue sharing the resources they created together with families across the state—and are looking forward to seeing where this partnership might go in the future!