We’ve been seeing photos of these blue blocks floating around on social media and thought they looked pretty cool, so we decided to sit down and chat with Renee Belousis, the managing director of PlayCanDo.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background
I was born and raised in Australia by parents of Greek descent. I left Australia in 2001 to work in London and travel around Europe. In 2004 I decided to move to Greece, where I stared working in the shipping industry. During this time I met my husband and we now have 2 beautiful boys who are 7 and 4 years old.
I stopped working when my first son was almost 3 and it was the first time in my career that I had time on my hands. I have always been an ideas person and even used to keep a book of business ideas. I had identified a gap in the children’s food market in Greece, which quickly turned into a project. I gathered a team of professionals and together we created a detailed business plan. We applied and were approved for ESPA funding, as we were creating a new market that was highly innovative. Sadly, I decided not to proceed as the financial crisis hit Greece just at that time and rendered the project unfeasible.
How did you get the idea of starting PlayCanDo?
Last summer we were at our favourite playground in Vouliagmeni. To our disappointment, they had ripped out the slides and other play equipment leaving big gaping holes. I was very annoyed and angry as our children had even less choice of playgrounds to play in.
When we got home I started researching playgrounds and came across the Imagination Playground. The Imagination Playground consists of life size foam blocks, called Blue Blocks. These looked very familiar to me. As it turns out, we had encountered the big Blue Blocks a couple of years earlier, at a children’s museum on a trip to San Francisco.
I contacted the Imagination Playground who are based in NY and asked how I could buy the blocks for my children, but was told the big Blue Blocks are not really for home use. They are used in schools, play spaces, children’s museums etc.
That’s when I thought wouldn’t it be great if children in Greece had the opportunity to play with these blocks too. I started discussions with Imagination Playground and through this became the Representative Sales Agent in Greece. In order to import the Blue Blocks I started the company, PlayCanDo.
PlayCanDo, however, is not only about the Imagination Playground Blue Blocks. Our mission is to promote the importance of free play and encourage children to play in unstructured ways once again, powering their imagination and fueling their curiosity. Children play less these days because of electronic devices, too many structured activities and reduced break time at school. They live in a world designed by adults and rarely have the opportunity to mould their environment as they imagine it.
That said, a play revolution is starting to take place globally and PlayCanDo is part of this revolution.
For my part, I have created a play environment at home for my children that advocates free play with materials and loose parts as play tools. We have done away with structured elaborate toys. The boys tinker, construct and design on a daily basis and learn while playing and having fun!
How was the experience of ‘starting-up’ in the area?
Surprisingly, the start up process was fairly painless. I work from home, which allows me to be available for my children. So far, PlayCanDo has only been advertised through FB and by word of mouth. Although the company was registered a year ago, the Blue Blocks only arrived for the first time in Greece in June of 2016.
Although most of the events we hold are in the south of Athens, we are not restricted to this area. We service all of Athens and we have even had enquiries from Thessaloniki, Chios and Evia.
Can you give us a run-down of an event?
We hire out the Blue Blocks (B2B) to schools, multi-functional children’s spaces and children’s museums etc. These are environments where teachers and education professionals are trained on how to use the Blue Blocks. In this case, PlayCanDo attends the first session for guidance.
“Pop-up playgrounds” are usually for parties and events. PlayCanDo, in this instance, is there as a “Play Associate”. We unpack the blocks and set up a few designs to inspire the “builders” when they arrive. We then stand back and our role is to merely ensure safety and encourage if needed.
The whole concept of unstructured free play, is to allow the children to use their own imagination, to create their own designs, their own world. We are not there to instruct. Some people struggle with this concept, they feel their children need to be told what to do. They feel that somehow they learn more or get more out of the blocks if they are shown what to make, but the opposite is true.
If I see a child getting stuck or feeling a little lost, I will start building something myself, making sure they are watching. They usually only need a few minutes as they watch me connect the blocks to be inspired and then they’re off. It’s amazing to watch!
The initial reaction with the Blue Blocks, for some children, especially between the ages 2 and 6, is to throw and hit with the blocks. However, when they get over these initial “primal urges” (as one mother put it), they focus on the shapes and connectivity of the blocks and get designing.
The monochrome blue is not an accidental colour, it is a colour which tested well with both boys and girls. By only having one colour, they are free to focus on size and shape, rather than colours.
The Blue Blocks have been designed by an architect who collaborated with educators and psychologists. Every shape has a purpose and is an invitation to play.
You will be happy to learn the blocks are not confined to a younger audience. We are working on their use in corporate training and team building sessions.
If people are interested in ‘playing’ how can they find the Blue Blocks?
PlayCanDo’s goal is to make the Blue Blocks accessible to more and more children.
I’m sold! The Blue Blocks really seem like a great way for kids to play. I asked a few of my friends about their experiences with PlayCanDo…
My 3 year old was lucky enough to be let loose on the infamous blue blocks by Play Can Do. For two hours he was able to lose himself in imaginative play and even collaborated with the ‘big boys’ to construct giant forts, complete with cannons and a get-a-way motorbike. He was the last to leave later, happy and exhausted so a win win for everybody.
The Nature of Play Project
I have 3 kids between the ages of 7 and 3 and they really enjoyed playing with the blue blocks. Each found an age appropriate way to play with them- the eldest built a “track” for the ball to roll on, while the younger kids built a house to play in.
They spent about 3 hours playing almost nonstop and would have kept on playing if we didn’t have to leave!
I thought it was a fantastic toy because the way it is played is completely up to the child and they set their imagination to work and just went with it’
Needless to say they’ve been begging me to play with the blue blocks almost on a daily basis now so we’re looking forward to our next play opportunity!
I like the blue blocks because you can fix a lot of things, you can fix a person. They don’t hurt people. They are amazing. I just love them.
7 years old