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Party in the Playground: Smith Memorial Playground’s 10th Annual Fundraiser Comes to Fairmount Park

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek’s favorite slide is the Ann Newman Giant Wooden Slide at Smith Memorial Playground in Fairmount Park.

On Thursday, Hirsh-Pasek received the 2017 Ida Newman Magic of Play Award — in the form of a tiny replica of the 112-year-old slide — for her work researching early childhood and infant development through language, literacy and playful learning at Smith’s 10th annual Party in the Playground on Thursday, an adults-only fundraiser featuring popular food trucks, cocktails, entertainment and a silent auction.

/Grace Shallow

/Grace Shallow

Fairmount businesses Ali’s Wagon, Sweet Nectar, Philly Art Center and Jerry’s Bar all donated items for the event’s silent auction. Tela’s Market catered food alongside food trucks like Dos Hermanos Tacos and SPOT Gourmet Burgers.

Hirsh-Pasek is also the Stanley and Debra Lefkowitz Faculty Fellow in the Department of Psychology at Temple University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Smith has been the setting for several of Hirsh-Pasek’s research projects regarding topics like science and early language development.

Hirsh-Pasek said the word “play” has a negative connotation nowadays, but engaging in physical play instead of digital play is important because it teaches kids cooperation and communication skills.

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek speaking after receiving the 2017 Ida Newman Magic of Play Award. /Grace Shallow

Meg Wise speaks at the “Party in the Playground” at Smith Memorial Playground. /Grace Shallow

The Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity chapter of LaSalle University, which is located in the Logan neighborhood, was also honored with the 2017 Ida Newman Magic of Play Award for consistent volunteering at the playground.

“Sigma Phi Epsilon believes that service does not need recognition, but only the satisfaction knowing that we are going out and helping the community,” said Matthew Quinn, a student at LaSalle University and one of the fraternity’s brothers, as he received the award. “I want to thank Smith Memorial Playground for giving us this opportunity.”

About 200,000 people visit the playground annually, which will celebrate its 118-year anniversary in July, free of charge. Smith also hosts on-the-spot play opportunities for kids at a network of social service agencies mainly in North Philadelphia, like homeless shelters and domestic violence agencies.

/Grace Shallow

/Grace Shallow

The event’s proceeds help maintain the playground’s free entry and fund its community-based work, said Meg Wise, the playground’s executive director. She added that the event could help fund the playground’s recent initiative to introduce more arts opportunities — like theater and music — to the kids who visit the playground.

The playground is also currently running a capital campaign with a goal of $13.5 million. Wise said about 20 percent of the money has been raised, and it would fund a final restoration of the Smith’s playhouse and a facelift to its front lawn so it’s more accessible and programmable.

This would help the kids who visit Smith “use play as a lever to connect to their imaginations and their creativity, to help adults understand and value play and help their kids spend more time playing,” Wise said.

“When we’re talking about play, we are talking about unstructured play, so it’s not necessarily a game with rules or adults giving kids instructions on what to do,” Wise said. “It’s really giving kids freedom to explore the things that interest them and just fostering those creative and really imaginative ideas that kids have inside them naturally.”

“Smith reminds us all that we need time to play and reminds us that being dreamers and having fun is a good thing to do,” Hirsh-Pasek said.

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