Pied Piper Pat makes Takoma Park more playful

by Sandy Moore


Pat Rumbaugh sports her Takoma Plays T-shirt.

photos by Julie Wiat

Former tomboy and “play advocate” Pat Rumbaugh thinks kids need to get physical.  Go outside. Run, swing, slide, whack a whiffle ball.  Stuck inside?  Get out the board games, beanbags, wrestling mat.  Keep moving.

Pat doesn’t just talk the talk.  “I’m the lady that goes down the slide”, says the 50-something baby boomer.  That’s when she’s not teaching physical education, coaching tennis, or writing a picture book about play.

She has been “serious” about play all her life, but in March Pat was recognized as the national “Playmaker of the Month” by KaBOOM! – – a national organization impressed by her efforts to make Takoma Park citizens more playful.

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Takoma Plays!

“This being Takoma Park, it began with a Play Committee,” says Pat with a smile. In 2009, Pat assembled a merry band of Takoma Park residents, which includes children’s librarian Karen McPherson and computer maven Phil Shapiro — who are also passionate about play.

Her chief collaborator is play enthusiast Mary Hanisco, a freelance editor and mother of two young girls. “I grew up in a neighborhood where kids headed outside to play kick the can,” says Mary, “and I absolutely loved board games.”  A recent transplant to Takoma, Mary was eager to explore the city’s playgrounds and meet other playful parents.

She and Pat convinced Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams that the city should ramp up activities at the city’s playgrounds, and the group was awarded a grant for a series of “Travelling Playdates,” held each month at a different park.
Members of the Committee (now called Takoma Plays!) helped organize the monthly Playdates that regularly attracted upwards to 100 participants.  The promise of music by popular musician Mr. Gabe and activities like bubble blowing and hula-hoops helped lure local families out, even on beastly summer days.

Playful City USA

Pat and Mary’s efforts have also resulted in Takoma Park being named one of the nation’s top 118 Playful Cities USA by KaBOOM! – a non-profit organization that promotes play across the country and helps build playgrounds.

Says KaBOOM! spokesman Ben Duda:  “Takoma has been very creative with their grass roots effort — the Travelling Playdates — which have brought hundreds of kids out and increased the quality of play at local playgrounds.  Their focus on intergenerational play is also unique and exciting.”


Less Computer, More Play

Parents complain their kids spend too much time on the couch, endlessly engaged with electronics. Perhaps you are one of those parents, wishing your kid’s repertoire included board games, street games or imaginary play.

Adults are similarly play-deprived, with work crowding out play.  Perhaps you are one of those grown-ups: it’s been several weeks since you tossed a frisbee, months since you played Monopoly, years since you hoisted a hula hoop around your hips!  Takoma Plays hopes to jump start your play engine.

“This is the second year we’re offering a Play Day for everyone in the community,” says Pat. “We’re hoping for 500 people!”


Play Day

September 25th’s Play Day is full of possibilities for all ages, from infants to elders.  Toddlers can “Touch a Truck” or build with boxes.  Older kids and adults will have a wide range of choices: from
old-fashioned “four square”, jacks, or hopscotch — to the imaginary world of Dungeons and Dragons.  State Senator Jamie Raskin will lead a spirited session of Simon Says.  They’ll have family yoga and floor hockey.  Teenagers, led by 17- year old Lucia Campos, can get community service for volunteering.

Dr. Stuart Brown (Pat Rumbaugh’s guru) has written “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.”  Says Brown: ” It’s established that play affects mental and physical health for both adults and children.  I’ve reviewed more than 6,000 life histories, looking specifically at a person’s play experiences over his or her life . . . and found that highly successful people have a rich play life.”

But don’t sit down and read his book just yet. First, Go PLAY !


These photos are scenes from the August 5 Traveling
Playdate at Forest Park.

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About the Author

Sandy Moore, the Kids' Voice columnist, writes for young readers and is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Sandy is also a past contributor to Washington Parent magazine, a Board member of Lumina Studio Theatre, and resident of Silver Spring.

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