The Playground

The Playground - monthly journal of the Playground Association of America

The Playground was the official monthly journal published by the Executive Committee of the Playground Association of America (PAA). The association was formed to support and expand the playground movement of the late 19th century and early 20th century. Led by Seth Thayer Stewart, the Chairman of the Executive Committee, the journal significantly furthered the playground movement through practical advice, programming ideas, and articles about playground theory.

In 1905, Henry S. Curtis, the director of the Washington, D.C. playground system, and Luther H. Gulick, the director of physical education in the New York City school system, joined together to form a national playground association. The official formation of the Playground Association of America occurred on April 12, 1906 at the YMCA in Washington, D.C. On that day, eighteen men and women representing playground associations, schools, cities, colleges, kindergartens, and charity organizations elected President Theodore Roosevelt as honorary President and Jacob Riis, a journalist and reformer, as honorary Vice-President.1 On a more functional level, Dr. Gulick was elected as President and Dr. Curtis became the association's Secretary.2

PAA's guiding principles were to assist cities in customizing a play and recreation plan for their local needs, develop the local leadership for sustained improvements, and to first improve existing playgrounds before establishing new play spaces. They were initially concerned with quality programs and leadership more than with widespread quantity of playgrounds.3

The association's monthly journal, The Playground, was first published in 1907. Seeking to spread the playground movement’s message, many prominent people wrote articles for the journal including Dr. Curtis, Dr. Gulick, Joseph Lee, and Edward DeGroot. In his capacity as Field Secretary, Lee F. Hanmer had a regular section in the journals called Playground Happenings, which included brief news stories from around the country of playground program activities, playground building projects, and charitable donations given for playground projects.

It contained articles about the histories of playgrounds in select cities, such as Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, and other cities as well as descriptions of programs offered. Large children’s festivals, including the Hudson-Fulton Children’s Festival held in October of 1909 in New York City that engaged more than 500,000 children in the activities, were highlighted with planning and programming notes included. The journals also contained the program notes from the Annual Congress of the Playground Association of America held each year.

The journal was the premier resource for the developing philosophies of the early playground movement years. Articles included “What is a Playground?” by Edward DeGroot, “A Study in the Psychology of Play” by Frank A. Nagley, “Athletics for Girls” by Helen M. McKinstry, “The School Playground as a National Educational Factor” by Louis W. Rapeer, and “How to Start and Organize Playgrounds” by Joseph Lee. Concerns of delinquency among boys, integrating the influx of immigrants, the health and physical development of urban children, and the lack of play opportunities and playgrounds are mentioned throughout the journals.

In the mid-1910s, the PAA broadened their scope and became the Playground and Recreation Association of America (PRAA), and their journal was renamed Recreation. What had originally been an emphasis on play and playgrounds became increasingly an emphasis on social work, civic affairs, and recreation.4

By 1930, the scope of the PRAA had broadened yet again to include physical fitness, recreation, sports, performing arts, research, training institutes, personnel services, and site visits. “Playground,” considered too confining a term, was dropped and their new name became the National Recreation Association. Thus, after twenty four years, the national association that emphasized the promotion of playgrounds ended. In 1963 the National Recreation Association merged with four other organizations to become the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).5

The archives of the Playground Association of America are housed at the University of Minnesota.6 ULAN Press has published a compilation of April 1909 through March 1910 monthly journals in an effort to preserve and offer historical reprints of important books in a book format entitled The Playground.7

  • 1. Anderson, Linnea M. (2006) “The playground of today is the republic of tomorrow”: Social reform and organized recreation in the USA, 1890-1930's' the encyclopaedia of informal education. < > 16 May 2017.
  • 2. Curtis, Henry S. The Play Movement And Its Significance. New York City, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company, 1917. p. 15.
  • 3. Butler, George D. Pioneers in Public Recreation. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing Company, 1965. p. 57.
  • 4. Frost, Joe L. A History of Children's Play and Play Environments. New York, NY: Routledge, 2000. p. 106.
  • 5. Hartsoe, Charles E. “The Birth of NRPA.” Parks & Recreation. Vol. 33, No. 7, July 1998. < > 16 May 2017.
  • 6. Op. cit., Frost. p. 90.
  • 7. The Playground. Middletown, DE: ULAN Press. 2011.