A retrospective from Modern Makers founder Debbie Carty
It’s global knowledge that the word social is defined as “a liking to be with, and talk, to people.” Another definition understood worldwide is that of playground, known as “any place, environment or facility used for recreation or amusement.”
Historically, at least on the surface, it would seem that combining these two concepts could only result in a positive, emotionally healthy situation. But the years and times have proven differently. Familiar childhood play scenarios and early adolescent socialization experiences are increasingly fraught with more fear, anxiety, and pressure than ever before. Bullying, humiliating and exclusionary behaviors remain abundant in neighborhoods, on playgrounds and even in classrooms, despite many teacher’s devoted efforts to eliminate destructive behavior.
And, just when we thought that navigating this already complicated climate between two seemingly simple, interactive and time-honored traditions, social and playground, then enters the new concept referred to as social networking, defined as “the use of dedicated websites and applications to interact with other users.” We all know the rest; EVERYTHING changed immeasurably….. and not necessarily for the better.
I struggled to understand how electronics could so quickly replace engagement, how i-everything became a substitute for interaction, how cruelty was growing stronger than kindness, how cyberspace was compromising world safety, and sadly, how agenda was replacing acceptance.
I’ve never considered myself a psychologist, but I began to ponder the stages of play and became painfully aware that “parallel play” (the first stage of early childhood play when our toddlers happily sit or stand next to each other but do not influence or interact with each other) was no longer just a phase but becoming a lifestyle. In my observation, toddlers-through-teens now seemed to spend hours sitting together, intensely focused on their techy-toys, and not engaging in any substantive conversation. Wasn’t “parallel play” supposed to be a developmental phase intended to evolve to associative play then eventually become the cooperative play we carry through adulthood?
I found myself convinced that there was still a creative community out there searching for personal interaction and longing to connect with the traditional values of respect, kindness and acceptance. I believed there was still a population of people, one that included all ages and abilities that preferred meaningful conversation and the interactive projects of yesteryear, like the age-old crafting circle that nurtured friendships and the human spirit.
And thus, my social experiment emerged and I introduced the phrase: A Safe Social Playground, defined by me as “any place that is monitored to provide a safe, kind and non-competitive environment where people of all ages and abilities can engage in creative projects that inspire interaction and promote community.”
KNITFIT was my first safe, social playground. Although it is now a destination storefront, it’s humble beginnings were over a decade ago when I led a simple knitting circle with my daughter, her classmates and some parents in my back yard. As children and adults learned to knit, we enjoyed a safe environment where manners mattered and kind conversation contributed to positive social interaction. Knitting and crafting proved to be the great equalizer, where bully-boundaries dissolved and genuine friendships formed. The children engaged in kind conversation and accepted each other at whatever skill level each presented. There was no competition, no exclusionary behavior, and no demeaning criticisms. We had created a comfortable and safe circle of inspiration and respect. Ultimately, we were using art to craft consciousness.
It is my hope that the Modern Makers model will encourage others to promote kindness and acceptance in the collective global effort to keep our children safe, conscientious, accepting, and engaged in only positive collaboration for future generations.