Touring our Playful Learning City with Chelsea Clinton


Touring our Playful Learning City with Chelsea Clinton

“Learning can’t and shouldn’t happen only in a classroom.”

Those words were spoken by Chelsea Clinton, Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, to a group of city officials, early childhood experts, and community leaders in Philadelphia in late October. The group was gathered to learn more about playful learning, an effort to integrate interactive learning into the everyday spaces around us - such as laundromats, grocery stores, libraries, and bus stops - to help children develop skills that will enable them to be successful in school and in life.

Over the past few years, Philadelphia has become a national leader in creating playful learning opportunities for children and families. The William Penn Foundation has supported more than a dozen playful learning projects in a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces in communities across the city, and we are proud to say that dozens of local organizations are actively involved in this work alongside us, including community-based organizations, Read by 4th, the Free Library of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, the Department of Public Health, and the Philadelphia Housing Authority. National organizations such as Playful Learning Landscapes Action Network (PLLAN), KABOOM!, and Too Small to Fail (TSTF) are also supporting and leading efforts to help Philadelphia become a playful learning city.

In October, we were thrilled to host the team from TSTF, an initiative of the Clinton Foundation, and its Vice Chair, Chelsea Clinton, to share the local expertise and momentum that is building in Philadelphia. TSTF has been working in Philadelphia to create spaces and programs that support parents and caregivers with resources to talk, read, and sing with young children. Read on for a photo montage from the day.


Kicking off the morning at Temple University

We kicked off the morning with breakfast at Temple University to hear from experts in this work on the impact of playful learning.

(Photo: TSTF)

Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Professor of Psychology at Temple University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, shared the science behind playful learning and how everyday spaces such as libraries, barber shops, and parks can be transformed into learning opportunities for children. Kathyrn Ott Level, Commissioner of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, shared how Parks and Recreation (PPR) have integrated playful learning into summer programming including PlayStreets and summer camps.


(Photo: Chelsea Clinton/TSTF)

The morning presentation concluded with remarks from Chelsea Clinton, who highlighted the work of several local partners, most notably Reading Captains: Philadelphia residents who help families to learn about practices and resources that can help their children become strong readers. In addition to their work with families, Reading Captains help transform laundromats into reading spaces, host book block parties, build little free libraries, and build community.


From there, the group boarded SEPTA buses wrapped inside and out with brightly colored early literacy messaging and prompts. The special buses are part of a SEPTA campaign to highlight how Philadelphia is leveraging the time spent traveling by prompting interactions between adults and children. We heard from leaders including Jenny Bogoni, Executive Director of Read by 4th; Heseung Song, CEO of Mighty Engine; and KABOOM!’s Lysa Ratliff and Jen DeMelo about the process behind creating these mobile learning spaces as well as playful learning installations in communities across the city.


(Photo: Reading Captains and Read by 4th/Read by 4th)


The Laundry Café

The first stop on the tour was the Laundry Café, located on West Allegheny Avenue, which Too Small to Fail helped transform into a literacy-rich environment.

(Photo: Chelsea reading to kids at Laundry Café/TSTF)

The Laundry Café features a reading area with books and games that practice literacy and math skills, and signage with fun questions that encourage families and young children to engage in conversation that builds early language and literacy skills. Research shows us that at “play and learn” spaces such as this, children engage in thirty times more literacy activities than in laundromats without play and learn spaces. Think about how that adds up every week considering that on average a family may spend five hours a week at a laundromat!


River Alive Learning Trail

The next and final stop was the River Alive! Learning Trail that opened in September 2022 in Juniata Park. The learning trail is an example of how our public spaces can be utilized to create fun, artistic, engaging learning opportunities for children and adults.

(Photo: Julie Slavet and Chelsea Clinton/TSTF)

We heard from Julie Slavet, Executive Director of the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, as she talked about the origins of the project and how the local community was involved from the design phase through installation.


(Photo: Heseung Song, Reading Captains, Victoria Prizzia, and Amanda Charles/Read by 4th)

Victoria Prizzia, creative consultant on the project, spoke about how each component of the trail -- the benches, signage, and animal sculptures -- sparks opportunities to learn about the environment, the water cycle, and local animal residents of the park.


(Photo: Denise, Dalila Bedoya, and Carol Austin/Read by 4th)

Finally, Dalila Bedoya, a local community member and parent, shared how her family interacts with the learning trail and how the learning trail has enriched the park.

The visit from Chelsea Clinton was a great way to highlight Philadelphia’s playful learning momentum. We encourage you to dig into these examples of playful learning and generate new ideas that build on the science and give voice to the community. If you have ideas about how playful learning can be incorporated into the infrastructure around us, please reach out to me at

(Photo: PPR and Rebuild Staff with Chelsea)

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