Listen & learn about our insights from building our first play hub!


Our Top 5 Lessons

THE PLACE SHAPES THE PLAY (Equipment gets boring)

When residents were asked why they didn’t use certain playgrounds in their community, the most frequent response was that “they’re boring”. Children and youth crave interesting places to test their limits, try new things and make a mess.

A big, flat field with no trees is what most people have in their communities. Or tot-lot playground with simple equipment. Those are some of the most challenging for unstructured play.

Here’s what makes the play hub different.

  • There’s a grassy hill, which is ideal for rolling down in a tube, for building a makeshift foam slide, for sledding in winter or the simple thrill of running down it at full speed.

  • There are wooden, metal and natural structures of different heights and sizes that people can climb, sit on, use as a surface, and that add points of interest to the site.

  • There are loose parts like tires, shovels, pool noodles and random other items (including an actual kitchen sink!) that can be used to creatively enhance play.

  • Around the site are an abundance of natural elements: a huge dirt pile, trees, rocks, and logs.

All of these elements are used to enhance unstructured play, spark the imagination and provide gathering areas for social interaction, all of which help to improve health and well-being.

GET BACK TO BASICS (We’ve forgotten how to be outside)

The hub has a court sized dirt pile & mud pit.

Kids have always loved testing their limits, dirt and mess. When we give ourselves, and our kids, permission to get dirty and make a mess, we can challenge our existing habits and play freely. The simple addition of water makes them a glorious place to get messy! When we aren’t worrying about trying to keep clean, we can fully immerse ourselves in play and investigate the world around us. We move more and sit less. We let our imagination take over and play the way our parents and grandparents did.

EVEN TECHNOLOGY NEEDS HEART (It has to be human to be useful)

Part of our project includes research – tracking a group of participants with activity trackers and the creation of a health dashboard, with an overall health and wellness score.

In the process of creating this dashboard, we wondered which types of health/lifestyle experts, people would like to speak with and what kind of data people want to know about themselves, their community and families.

We asked the community “who do you wish you could have on speed dial?” and “has data or a fact ever changed how you live your life?”

We were surprised to see that most people chose a family member or a best friend rather than an expert to connect with. It made us realize that technology is a tool for connection, but it needs to be designed with emotion and feeling- reflecting those who will use it.  Technology needs to feel human – not cold and unapproachable.  Data, we’ve observed, needs to tell a story without being overwhelming or complicated.


The level of imaginative play with loose parts that is achieved at our Vivo Play Hub beats what we can achieve in the community, where we only have access to the items that we can carry with us.

This insight was confirmed when we were able to bring several carloads of loose parts to a Community Play event.  It was amazing to see how more imaginative children can be when they have an abundance of raw materials to work with. 

The power of abundance doesn’t just apply to loose parts. Having more peers to watch and learn from, play with, and bounce ideas off, also enhances play. So does having more trees, mud, permission, music, etc. We are designing the next generation of hubs to be those places of abundance.

FIREPITS ARE MAGICAL (And the community is craving conversation)

Not only can they turn a marshmallow into a gooey mouthful of awesomeness, they provide warmth and a welcoming space to meet new people or create friendships. They quickly become a focal point at community events and draw people in to socialize, to share food and stories.

Research has shown that gathering around a fire stimulates our more primitive instincts. It allows us to be more social and vulnerable with people. Around the psychological safety of a fire, we feel able to tell stories, relive nostalgic moments, and share some of our hopes and fears with others. In other words, it helps to create community.

Even in the quieter moments, focusing on a specific object, like the flickering flames in our fire pit, is a way to achieve a meditative state. This has been shown to help with working through problems, lowering our blood pressure, and help with long term memory.

We are using these insights and more to design the next generation of hubs that will roll out across north central Calgary in the Fall/Winter of 2019!

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