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DEAr early Childhood Educator, On behalf of Too Small to Fail and Landscape Structures Inc., congratulations on acquiring your new Smart Play® playstructure! You have an exciting opportunity to promote whole-child development and learning during play time! As an educator, you know that children learn best through play and playgrounds, which can provide wonderful opportunities to engage them in activities to support all areas of their development. Smart Play playstructures are not just a place for children to move and be physically active, the activities and messaging, developed with guidance from the National Head Start Association and Too Small to Fail, prompt adult-child conversations and promote whole-child learning across key developmental domains. They are designed to extend children’s learning from the classroom and support their physical, cognitive, language, math, and social-emotional development. Also, each component of the Smart Play playstructures is designed to promote back-and-forth, language-rich interactions like talking, reading, singing, and playing. Research shows that engaging children in these simple activities can boost their early brain and language development—preparing them for success in school and in life. This guide, developed by Too Small to Fail and Landscape Structures, provides early educators with tools and information to make the most of all the activities integrated into the Smart Play playstructures, complementing the work children are already doing in the classroom and extending your efforts into playground time. In the following pages, you’ll find: •

An overview of the Nook, Loft, Fire Station and Market Cafe

A guide to whole-child development and key learning domains

Activities built into the structures to promote whole-child development and learning

Ideas for ways you can use each component of the structures to help children learn

Ways to use the playground to build meaningful connections with parents and caregivers

You know your students best, so we encourage you to use your expertise and creativity when engaging them in the activities built into the Smart Play playstructures. We are truly grateful for your support and for everything you do each day to create brighter futures for children! Sincerely, Your Friends at Too Small to Fail and Landscape Structures



Table of Contents Smart PlayÂŽ Overview


Whole-Child Development and Learning


Nook Activities


Centre Activities


Parent and Family Engagement


Additional Information and Resources




Smart Play playstructures are thoughtfully designed to pack many sensory-rich activities into a compact play environment. They spark playful experiences for infants as young as 6-months who are learning to crawl and stand—all the way up to 5-year-olds who love to run and climb. Each part of the Smart Play playstructures is also created to encourage language-rich interactions like talking, reading, and singing.

Nook (6 to 23 Months)

Centre (2 TO 5 Years Old)

Sized just right for little crawlers and early walkers, this whimsical structure offers plenty of colorful and engaging activities to capture young ones’ attention.

As children grow, they are ready to explore the Loft, Fire Station and Market Cafe, which all include a range of interactive elements to engage preschoolers’ minds and bodies.


Whole-Child Development and Learning Smart Play® playstructures are designed to promote children’s whole-child development and learning. They also align with the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework, which includes five developmental domains that programs are required to support—approaches to learning; perceptual, motor, and physical development; language and literacy development; cognition; and social-emotional development.

Approaches to Learning Approaches to learning includes self-regulation skills, exploring curiosities, and expressing creativity. This includes developing self-regulation skills, exploring curiosities, and expressing creativity. Often called “executive functions,” these skills also help children use past experiences to solve problems and follow multistep directions. At the playground, this can look like remembering to hold onto the handrail when going up the stairs and role playing in the fire station.

Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development Playgrounds are traditionally designed to allow children to develop gross motor skills or larger muscle movements like climbing stairs, crawling through small spaces, and sliding down the slide. Fine motor, or small muscle coordination in the hands and fingers, are fostered through picking things up, and manipulating small objects. Perceptual motor skills help children take in and interpret sensory information. At the playground, this can look like recognizing the image of a dog, moving the panel gears, and balancing on the belt seat.

Language and Literacy Development Promote children’s emerging abilities in language and literacy development by talking, reading, and singing anytime, anywhere. Introduce children to new words to foster their expanding vocabulary, read environmental print together, and ask probing questions to further inquiry. Parents and educators can expand children’s vocabulary related to a variety of concepts, including math, music, nutrition, nature, and science. At the playground, this can look like reading the sentences and words that appear on the structure, counting the number of steps as a child climbs, singing songs, and asking open-ended questions as children engage in play.

Cognition Young children build their own knowledge, understanding, and critical thinking skills through exploration and discovery. Children learn how to process information using the scientific inquiry method, asking their own questions and testing hypotheses, thereby gaining a deeper understanding of the world around them. At the playground, this can look like encouraging children’s inquiry by asking why questions (i.e. Why does the firefighter need to wear so much gear?) and helping them think through how they can solve a problem with a friend.

Social-Emotional Development Social and emotional development includes learning cooperative play skills, establishing positive, rewarding relationships, and learning to identify and regulate emotions in positive, healthy ways. The playground can be an ideal setting for children to interact with each other and the adults around them. Educators can structure cooperative “I-Spy” games, guide children in cooperative play, and participate in child led role play. NOTE: In the next several pages, look for the lightbulb icon for information on which developmental domain(s) each part of the Smart Play playstructures promote.


Nook Activities

Balance Rail


The rail along the fence is designed to support children who are just learning to stand and walk on their own. Encourage young learners to hold onto the fence to support their weight as they walk and explore the structure.

Use the doorbell sound to talk with young learners about what the sound means—someone is at the door! These skills are applicable to what young children are experiencing at home and this is a great opportunity to help make that connection. Ding dong ! Approaches to Who’s th ere? Learning and

Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development

Language Development

Ramp The slight incline challenges early walkers to keep their balance when using the ramp. Talk with children as they practice walking up and down, in and out of the structure. Use words like up, down, inside, and outside. Perceptual, Motor, Language, and Physical Development Let’s walk up, up, up the ramp. Now let’s walk inside the house.


Fruit Panel Foods are often one of the first objects young children can learn to recognize and name. Point out the fruit images on the panel and share backand-forth conversations by asking children what the foods look like, smell like, or taste like. Approaches to Learning, Language, and Cognitive Development fruit is My favorite s your t’ ha apple. W How does t? ui r f favorite to t’s pretend it taste? Le ! it u fr eat the


Sliders and Spinners

Mirrors can be used with young children during their first few months to teach self-recognition. Point to the image with a child and take turns saying your name and his/her name. Name and point to the body parts that are visible in the reflection together like your eyes, nose, and ears. Make faces in the mirror to express and identify the range of emotion.

The Nook is full of manipulatives to keep little hands and minds busy! Built in activities like the flower marbles, spinners, and rabbit slider allow young children to develop fine motor skills and explore different kinds of textures. Let children explore these features and use words like side-to-side or spinning around and around to describe how they move.

Approaches to Learning, Language, and Social-Emotional Development

Approaches to Learning, Language, Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development

at? Who’s th ou! it’s y it’s me, py face! ke a hap ce! Let’s ma fa ke a sad ce! Let’s ma fa ly ke a sil Let’s ma

Alphabet and Numbers Panels Extend the learning beyond the classroom by talking with children about the different letters and numbers on the panels. If you are focusing on a specific letter or number in the classroom, see if children can find it on the panel. Practice letter sounds and talk about words that begin with that letter. Language Development, and Cognition

Bells and Music Notes Panel These playground structures make all kinds of fun sounds! Young children can interact with the music panel and listen to the bell sounds when they press the buttons. Describe how the bell sounds: low, high, loud, or quiet. Sing songs together as you play with the music panel. Make up movements to go with the song, clap to the rhythm, or dance along to the beat. Approaches to Learning, Perceptual, Language, Motor, and Physical Development g! the bell rin Let’s make d? e bell soun How does th hat w sound. W It makes a lo her? e sing toget song can w star... inkle little Twinkle tw


Centre Activities Loft

Belt Seat

Spinners, Sliders, and Gear Panels

The belt seat allows 2- to 5-year-olds to practice balancing. Whether they choose to sit or stand on the belt, this coordination skill helps them develop both fine and gross motor muscles.

The leaf, flower, fire hydrant, and gear manipulatives on the Loft, Market Cafe, and Fire Station help develop children’s fine motor skills. These activities allow children to explore textures, their own creativity, and cause and effect movements with the rotating gears. Encourage children to explore these features and ask questions about how they move.

Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development

Clock The clock inside the house is a real-life touch that adds to children’s role play activities. Use the clock to help children identify numbers, count, and develop the concept of time. Language Development and Cognition

s 12:00 What time is it? It’ That n. oo rn in the afte lunch! r fo e tim s it’ means


Approaches to Learning, Perceptual, Language, Motor, and Physical Development

How do the gears move? They spin around and around! How do the leaves move? How about the flowers?

Emotions Panel

Flower Talk Tube

Talk with children about the four faces with four different facial expressions on the emotions panel. Ask open-ended questions about feelings and how our faces look when we’re feeling a certain way. This can help children develop empathy.

Young learners can talk to each other and other adults through the telephone-like flower talk tube. Be creative with role play and vocabulary building conversations. Approaches to Learning, Cognition, Language, and Social-Emotional Development

Cognition, Language, and SocialEmotional Development

Hello fr ien you? Ma d! How are y I pleas eh four ap ples fro ave m the market?

l? is face fee How does th ls ee f u tell it How can yo d o y do does your b sad? What ? How e feeling sad when you’r ppy? n you’re ha about whe


Colors Mat Children can explore colors with the color floor mat in the Loft. Ask questions to get their minds thinking like a scientist! Cognition and Language Development mix What happens when you er? eth tog blue and yellow other They make green! What er? eth tog mix we colors can

Sending and receiving mail is a great way to help build children’s reading and writing skills. Send mail to children using the mailbox at the front of the Loft. Use children’s creativity to imagine letters from family members, peers, or party invitations. Ask children to read their letters and guide them in new vocabulary development. You can even encourage children to write letters to their friends and leave them in the mailbox. Approaches to Learning, Cognition, Language, and Social-Emotional Development here! The mail is a ge u Did yo t es do t ha W ? letter it ad re s it say? Let’ ! er togeth


Fire Station

“Let’s Play I, Spy!”

Driving the Firetruck

The “I-Spy” panel encourages children to search for and find the objects around their environment. Make a cooperation game where children work together or compete in teams to find all the objects.

The firetruck dashboard seats two children as they drive around looking for people to help. The walkie-talkie, slider, and bell are there to encourage children to use their imaginations and pretend they are firefighters getting ready to save the day!

Cognition, Language, Social-Emotional Development

Firefighter Uniform

Approaches to Learning, Cognition, Language, Social-Emotional, Perceptual, Motor, and Let’s look Physical Development

around. W ho needs help today? This friend need s help! Ring the bell and le t’s go!

The inside of the Fire Station shows some of the things that firefighters need to stay safe while doing their jobs. Each piece of safety equipment is labeled. Point to and read the words and use the mirror to engage in conversations about firefighters—as well as other community helpers. Cognition, Language, and SocialEmotional Development Let’s look in the mirror and imagine r! you’re a firefighte rs te igh ef fir What do ay st to ar we to ed ne safe?

Dog House The dog house and other built in crawl spaces encourage children to use their bodies to maneuver through small spaces. Children can also pretend they are the Fire Station pet or learn to take care of the Dalmatian named Sparky. Perceptual, Cognition, Motor, Language, Social-Emotional, and Physical Development


Market CafE

Meal Table

Vegetable Stand

Talk with students about how different foods taste. Use the foods that are around the Market Cafe and then expand to other foods students are familiar with. The bricks on the side of the playstructure offer new vocabulary word to use when describing the foods.

Children can choose between a wide selection of healthy foods including apples, lettuce, and peppers. Talk about the different colors you see and count the number of each food in the market. Talk about other healthy foods and how important it is to eat nutritious meals.

Language & Literacy, Cognition, Social & Emotional your How does ? e Do the food tast ste sour ries ta strawber ’s pretend to ? Let or sweet eat one!

Example Graphics

Language & Literacy, Cognition

Order Here Children can work together to create an operating market. The “Order Here” talk tube allows children outside to order food from their peers inside the Market Cafe. The ”Open and Closed” sign lets customers know if the Market Cafe is open for business! Language & Literacy, Cognition, Social & Emotional

Healthy Meal and Snacks Menu with Cash Register (inside) Match foods with their name and/or color. Talk about how much each meal costs and pretend to ring it up on the cash register! Language & Literacy, Cognition


Engaging Parents & Families at the Playground Use the Smart Play® playstructures as a fun and creative way to engage parents and families and help them extend the learning at home Educators play an important role in a child’s development, using the classroom and learning environment to create learning opportunities. Additionally, parents are their child’s first teacher and it is crucial for the school and community to support them in this role. Early educators can serve as trusted messengers and model fun, simple ways parents can talk, read, and sing with their children in everyday spaces like playgrounds. Use your Smart Play playstructures to engage families, build strong connections with parents, and show them all the wonderful concepts their children are learning at school. Encourage them to keep the learning going at home!

Host Family Play Dates at the Playground! Invite children and families to get together for a play date at your Smart Play playstructure. This can provide great opportunities for both children and parents to get together and bond. You can also use these events to show parents how they can talk, read, and sing with their children at the playground—recognizing that the playground can be a fun and rich learning environment. The structures offer families a variety of concepts to discover and explore together. Model using key elements of the playstructure for parents and show them how they can further engage in learning with their child. Here are some other tips: •

Lead a “Talk, Read, Sing, Play” tour by guiding parents around the playground and model talking, reading, and singing activities.

Show parents how they can play fun games and share back-and-forth conversations around the playground like peek-a-boo, tag, or Simon Says.


Highlight the benefits of language-rich activities (builds children’s brains and boosts vocabulary!)

Acknowledge parents and compliment them on the ways they’re already helping their children learn!

Additional Resources 1. Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing (by Too Small to Fail) offers engaging tips, articles, videos, and other resources to help parents and caregivers support their children’s early brain and language development. Visit 2. Strive for Five: Talk, Read, Sing, Early Learning Boot Camp is a free five-week online professional development program developed by Too Small to Fail, the National Head Start Association, and the National Association for Family Child Care. The program is designed to provide early educators with instant tools and ideas to promote children’s early brain and language development and improve the quality of early learning environments. Educators who complete the program will receive 14 Child Development Associate (CDA) training hours towards Subject Area 8 (Understanding the Principles of Child Development and Learning). Visit 3. Landscape Structures Inc., the premier provider of innovative park and playground equipment, is committed to creating inspiring play experiences for children of all ages while honoring the environment. The company has designed, manufactured, installed more than 75,000 playgrounds worldwide. Visit

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Copyright © 2019 by the Clinton Foundation through its early childhood initiative, Too Small To Fail



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Smart Play: Early Education Guide  

Smart Play: Early Education Guide