Knee High Challenge: The Play Agency


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Ben Barker

20th November 2013

The Play Agency is looking for new recruits; families in Southwark and Lambeth are being enlisted to help share ideas for play. Explore, invent or play, then share your ideas with other agents and get families in the boroughs playing more.



The Knee High Challenge

A few months ago we proposed a project for the Knee High Challenge called the Play Agency, which focused on getting families playing more together. Happily it was shortlisted for further development, and we’re now exploring it’s development. Our ambition was to create an organisation that recruited families to find, capture and share ideas for play across Lambeth and Southwark, celebrating and encouraging a layer of daily play. Our belief was that play can happen anywhere, and by highlighting it we can take the pressure off parents to be ‘good’ players. The Knee High project research told us that although dedicated spaces like parks and soft play offer good opportunities, getting the children ready to go and travelling to the location are big barriers. We imagined families might capture anything from where good deep puddles form in the rain, to a game of make-believe they play using bike racks. We wanted to challenge the common conception of where play should and shouldn’t happen and help people explore new opportunities.

knee high PDF
See the longer document here

The key to the success of the project will come from the ability for players of all backgrounds and skills to share and learn from each other, rewarding the inventor, as much as the explorer or casual browser.  That means we must balance technology and physical tools to make best use of the affordances and accessibility of each. We imagine that using digital technologies to capture locations, contemporaneous notes and images would be well complimented by physical reporting and dissemination. Our research is now focused on exploring which format is right for each.





Research and Exploration

In our initial research we’ve stripped away technology to understand more about the value of this hidden layer of play. We’ve been at these key themes;

Capture – families look out for examples and opportunities for play;

Share – example are distributed to Agency members;

Learn – the examples supply families with inspiring ideas for play in their local area;

Families then have the tools and ideas to develop their own play ideas, capture and share, continuing the loop.


We proposed focusing our idea on children aged 3-5 years. At an age where their language and social skills are developing rapidly and their curiosity and independence is growing, this age group will benefit most from being encouraged to, and celebrated for, playing. Parents who may be struggling for ideas and those which are bursting with inspiration will be able to learn and share with others, building a network of skilled play inventors.


We aim to build upon the capabilities of parents to play with their children regularly as part of a daily routine. The Agency encourages parents to notice and be proud of the play they engage in with their children; even those lacking in confidence will have developed their own approaches to play and our vision is to facilitate the sharing of those ideas between parents. As parents become more confident in their own abilities to find opportunities for play, play is legitimised and rewarded, becoming a normal part of everyday life for families.


Through the Play Agency, children are encouraged to explore the world around them through play. Coming up with ideas for play isn’t just down to parents; children invent games and find fun everyday and the Agency hopes to harness children’s naturally playful, curious nature and celebrate it. With parents growing confidence in using play to aid in their child’s development, the children will be exposed to more stimulation and interaction with their parents and other children.


Local parents and families are able to connect through the Play Agency, through sharing and learning about ideas for play. Whether parents and families meet through a physical space such as a pop-up shop, online via a website or through sharing ideas on a social media platform, it will be the celebration of creativity and ideas that unites those who join the Agency. As research suggests, it is parents who have a strong informal support network that are best able to deal with the highs and lows of parenthood and we hope the Agency will strengthen those networks as families get to know their neighbours through sharing ideas with those in the local area.


For a lot of parents the understanding seems to be that play is structured and to some extent formalised. For the Play Agency to have real merit we have to engage parent in the idea that there is equal, if not greater value in small scale, playful moments throughout the day. The project continues to develop, and we’ve discussed a newspaper format, as well as a system that uses post boxes as markers for play in the local area, supported by a post card subscription system. For now follow the agency on twitter or check out the flickr set for more research images.