Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Imagination Playground shapes new custom places to play

Imagination Playground’s Blue Blocks create endless possibilities

by Wendy M. Grant

Imagination Playground’s signature Blue Blocks easily transform any empty space into an instant playground. And when the blocks are placed in a space that is anchored by walls made from the same material, the fun is amplified.

The Blue Blocks were conceived by architect David Rockwell. Lightweight, durable, portable, easy to clean and infinitely customizable, the foam blocks, in various shapes and sizes, inspire children to build anything they can imagine. Blue Blocks were an instant hit when first introduced in Burling Slip, a park in New York designed by Rockwell.

The versatile blocks can be used indoors or outdoors, on floors of all types, on splash pads, on grass or wood chips – or with a custom wall of the same material, which enhances the appeal and immersion of a Blue Blocks zone.

“Adding a block wall or a completely custom play space for the Blue Blocks takes everything to a whole new level,” says Jim Stallman, Owner of Imagination Playground. The space becomes a screen-free play zone that further encourages collaborative activity, physical movement, social development, and creativity.

Today, Imagination Playground products can now be found around the world at museums, attractions, schools, libraries, and hotels. Some recent installations of custom walls and Blue Block play spaces designed by Imagination Playground can be found at the Museum of the Southwest in Texas, The Scientific Center in Kuwait, the Golden History Center in Colorado, Maker Maxity in India, Yellow Submarine in Bahrain, and the Onondaga County Central Library in New York, among others.

Off-the-wall creativity
Jim Stallman, Owner of Imagination Playground, shows off the company’s signature Blue Blocks

While most walls are limiting, a giant foam wall with strategic cutouts is literally built for fun. Chairs are for sitting, but an Imagination Playground chair can be a starting point for a spaceship. A foam table can become a knight’s table inside a castle built of Blue Blocks. Logos and custom shapes can be sculpted from foam and incorporated seamlessly into a space where kids of all ages will play for hours.

Michelle Calderon, Imagination Playground’s Director of Client Relations, described a recent project for Dig It, a construction- themed family entertainment center (FEC) that encourages kids to build the community around them through play. Dig It requested a 15’ x 15’ custom wall that incorporated their logo and their motto, “Play to Learn,” as well as unique shapes, like a stop sign, dump truck, and hammer.

“Our engineer brought it to life,” says Calderon. “When a client chooses to create a custom wall or space, it’s not something you see everywhere,” she adds. “It makes a space unique.”

Custom walls not only serve as a fitting backdrop for Blue Block play, but kids actually can build off of the wall or into the wall. “The ability to build off the walls and the addition of matching foam tables and chairs really makes a space more inviting and engaging,” Stallman shares. “I equate it to the decor and immersive atmosphere customers enjoy while waiting in a line for a ride. It sets the tone and pulls you into the story you are about to experience.”

Blue Blocks can be placed anywhere, and kids will instantly gravitate to them and start playing. A circular piece and a noodle can become a guitar. Channels and chutes can be configured into a roller coaster for a ball.

“The blocks are high quality, and they are also unique, open- ended, and an engaging screen-free option for play that creates much needed balance for our children these days. The blocks help develop essential skills such as imagination, collaboration, and problem solving,” says Liz Rossiter, director of Mud Kitchen, the distributor for Imagination Playground in Australia and New Zealand.

Building bigger, playing longer

Even more importantly, Stallman notes that the building, learning, and dwell time surrounding the Big Blue Blocks increases in scale and scope when they are immersed in a play space. He says, “We see kids in play spaces spend up to 30% more time and build creations that are 50% larger.”

Sunčana Sinković, manager of Blue World Creative Children’s Playroom in Croatia, says, “The reactions of both children and parents have been amazing. Kids don’t want to leave our playroom even after three or more hours of play. It is not unusual for parents to join them in the playing area.”

Kids naturally build higher when they’re in a location with a wall made from the same foam as the Blue Blocks. “They can easily build a house or a fort, because they’ve already got a wall,” Calderon says. “Or they can create a fun course for a ball to run down from as high as they can reach on the wall.” Generally, custom walls are five feet tall because that’s the maximum reach for most children, though Imagination Playground is happy to build higher walls upon request.

The blocks also can function as comfortable and flexible furniture.

A custom wall can even be portable, shares Calderon. “If it is assembled onto a subframe that is then drilled into a feature wall, the wall can be moved to another location if needed,” she explains. The wall can shape the space for a temporary exhibit or a space-filler. Just add loose Blue Blocks to create an instant play space.

While pricing is depending on the project, Calderon says that custom walls are cost-effective. “We are able to work closely with the customers to design a play space specific to their needs, budget, and project timeline, with custom and exciting shapes,” Stallman adds.

He notes, “We can take a concept and bring it from prototype to design to delivery very quickly.” The turnaround time to deliver a wall of standard shapes is six to eight weeks, while a custom project featuring logos, intellectual property, or unique shapes, is as little as eight to 10 weeks.

Innovation takes shape quickly

Innovation is fueling that fast turnaround time. Stallman says, “The team is constantly developing new systems and custom foam-cutting processes that now allow us to design custom projects quicker and more efficiently.”

Imagination Playground has made significant investments in its quality systems, manufacturing processes, and equipment. Stallman shares, “We have installed custom-built cutting equipment that triples our capacity and increases our cutting capabilities to allow for new and dynamic shapes. This new cutting technology will also enable more flexibility to fabricate custom shapes for walls and permanent installations for our customers.”

Imagination Playground has also developed new block shapes, ready for purchase, including a transportation-themed set of blocks that is just entering the market.

Imagination Playground products are made from foam, but they are surprisingly durable. Calderon says, “Although you can blemish them and scratch the surface, they can last upwards of a decade if taken care of.” Stallman noted that Blue Blocks at the original Burling Slip location even survived Hurricane Sandy.

A play space uniquely your own

The process for creating a custom wall or space is straightforward. Calderon says, “The customer provides the dimensions of the space, and information about what they want to include, such as a logo, colors, and other details regarding special shapes. Then our design engineer puts his mind to work to create a project for the client’s approval.” Dominic Luoni is the creative mind who serves as Director of Product Development and Innovation. “There are endless opportunities each day to work with our team and customers to create amazing new products,” he shares. “It’s awe-inspiring to see what people can imagine. The challenge of bringing those ideas to life is the best part.” Luoni encourages customers who are interested in a custom design to let their imagination flow.

When designing, he considers the utilization of the space, product life, and, most importantly, safety. “Nothing trumps safety,” Luoni emphasizes.

In addition to blocks, noodles, and geometric shapes of all sorts, Imagination Playground also offers Loose Part Bones, which empowers children to design an alien, insect, or dinosaur up to four feet long and six feet high. When asked what he’d like to design for a theme park, attraction, or museum, Luoni says, “I imagine a dinosaur area with matching walls and furniture that has multiple interaction points.” He envisions a build-your-own- dinosaur area where kids define their dino’s diet, hunting habits, and characteristics.

“I love to design a hands-on exhibit and play area that can teach at the same time it entertains and thrills,” he says. “Bringing families together through fun and play that stimulates learning is always the objective.”

See the Blue Blocks at your next trade event

In 2023, the Blue Blocks and the Imagination Playground team are returning to trade events such as the Association of Children’s Museum’s InterActivity marketplace in New Orleans in April, where Imagination Playground is the standing sponsor of the Emerging Museums segment. Imagination Playground will also be at the Tri-State CAMP Conference in New Jersey for the first time this March, as well as additional shows later in the year. Whenever it participates in a conference or expo, Imagination Playground brings blocks along, and adults enjoy building with them just as much as kids do. Stallman says, “We are excited to meet and build with you this year!”

Imagination Playground is headquartered in the U.S. and produces all products in America. Stallman notes, “Each Imagination Playground Blue Block is handcrafted in the USA by many of the same team members that hand-cut the very first set of blocks.” International distributors are located in the U.K., Australia/New Zealand, Korea, and Japan. For more information about Blue Blocks, custom walls and play spaces, and all things Imagination Playground, visit https://imaginationplayground.com/in-park-magazine/ • • •

Imagination Playground’s client, Dig It, requested a 15’ x 15’ custom wall that incorporated their logo and their motto, “Play to Learn,” as well as unique shapes, like a stop sign, dump truck, and hammer
Wendy Grant
Wendy Grant
Wendy M. Grant has worked in marketing for more than 25 years. She served as Director of Marketing and Communications for San Diego’s Fleet Science Center, home to the world’s first IMAX Dome Theater, where she directed marketing for all exhibitions, films, shows and events for 13 years. She served on the Marketing Committee for the Giant Screen Cinema Association and she was a board member for the Giant Dome Theater Consortium. Prior to working in the museum field, she was Director of Marketing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar where she helped to produce the annual Miramar Air Show. Since 2019, Grant has worked as a communications consultant, writer and editor, with clients in the education and entertainment fields.

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