Playful Learning Math Mural

Many struggle with understanding basic math concepts and the kids at Ben Franklin Elementary School in northeast Philadelphia were no exception. They were having problems with counting, spatial relations, geometry, and algebra.

The school was in the midst of a playground design process with Trust for Public Land when they asked Jenna Robb and I to reimagine what the broken gray asphalt play area could become and how it could foster learning.


Trust for Public Land


Jenna Robb


We transformed the asphalt lot (left) into an inspiring playscape (right)

Even though play is absolutely essential for the development of cognitive and social skills in children, school districts often treat it as a luxury. In most Philadelphia schools outdoor time it is incredibly short, green spaces are scarce and in many schools, the only playspace is a parking lot.

birds eye view of playground

The Games

Recognizing that each child is unique, we created spaces for a variety of different play styles. Some areas are active, others team-oriented, and still others offer space for quiet contemplation. While the design and color scheme of the games reference popular activities, they were purposely left open-ended so that children could create their own rules, encouraging child-directed learning, creative problem-solving, collaboration, self discovery, and ownership over the playspace.

Mandala detail
number line
Birds eye view

It took a village create something this massive. We are so grateful for Dan Murphy and Josh Smith for being the mural pros (and teaching us), Anna Forrester for the playful learning insights, Gretchen Trefny for believing we could pull this off, and an entire crew of friends and neighbors who gave their time and energy to these kids.

Aerial photos by Bradley Maule. Other photos by Elyse Leyenberger

City and playground
The artists
Josh Painting
dan painting