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A New Way to Play at Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse

The renovated Playhouse is open and all the favorites are back—plus a new themed play area where kids are the creators!

Situated on more than six acres in East Fairmount Park, Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse has welcomed children to play for more than 100 years. Many generations of children in the Philadelphia area have played in the rooms of its mansion (built just for kids!), whooshed down the Ann Newman Giant Wooden Slide, and frolicked on its playground.

Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse recently reopened its doors after its historic, 16,000-square foot mansion underwent a substantial, two-year renovation. Inside, kids and caretakers will find fun, new features to explore. There’s now a netted loft space, an infant toddler exploration area, and the Marion Stokes Library. The popular “trike town” area known as Smithville is bigger and brighter. And on the second floor, there’s a new play space offering a changing roster of thematic play experiences that first opened with Tinker Town, a hand-on maker-space. 

Open ended play for kids and adults

Inventive Play in Tinker Town

Upstairs in Smith Playhouse, Tinker Town provided kids and their adults with loose, raw materials such as fabric, recyclables, corks, objects from nature, cardboard, and more to “let their imagination flow,” says Frances Hoover, Executive Director at Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse. Smith has always recognized the importance of free, unstructured play in a safe environment and Tinker Town expands on that tradition.

Frances Hoover has seen kids and adults make some wonderful things in Tinker Town. There have been dream homes, a community quilt, vehicles, and figures made out of cork. She has observed parents and grandparents playing beside the children, making their own masterpieces. “It’s been a great opportunity for older kids and parents to engage as well,” says Hoover. “Parents were helping their children and before you knew it they were making their own creations.”

Making creations in Tinker Town

Tinker Town also featured a construction area with real tools and wood where kids can make things and take them apart. There’s a cubby area with hard hats and vests to further enhance the play experience. This way kids can really feel like a worker on a construction site. 

Thematic Play Experiences

The Tinker Town play area, was the first in a rotating schedule of thematic play areas at Smith. Frances Hoover describes these as “open-ended play experiences for children and families.” Each play area will be installed in the same space on the second floor, but will feature a different theme, layout, and activities. 

After Tinker Town comes La La Land, a performance-based play experience involving stages, musical instruments, costumes, props, and materials to make soft puppets. Following La La Land will be Fortlandia, a play space for building indoor forts with various materials, and then Word World, a place to explore themes in children’s literature through play. Be sure to visit the Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse website for the schedule of theses interactive play experiences.

These thematic, maker-spaces enrich the already vibrant play space at Smith with another option for play, creativity, and imagination. And the simple props, materials, and activities are things families can recreate at home. “We provide stuff that most people have, like toilet paper rolls, straws, cardboard,” says Hoover. “We’re inviting people and setting the stage for that exploration. And we’re hoping that will inspire a different type of play at home, too.” 

This new way of play coincides with the much anticipated renovation of the Smith Playhouse mansion. After 100+ years of child’s play, the beautiful building has been updated and is ready to delight and inspire another generation of children. 

Photos from Tinker Town, courtesy of Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse.

Main Line Parent Writer & Calendar Editor. Email beth@familyfocus.org.

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