Maggie Willman (left) and Ashli Givens (right) are the co-founders of Rooted in Play. Their nonprofit started as a direct result of the lack of opportunities for their own children to take risks, build autonomy and just play.

Rooted in Play started as a direct result of a problem encountered by its two co-founders, Maggie Willman and Ashli Givens, that being the lack of opportunities for their own children to take risks, build autonomy and just play.

Willman and Givens both grew up in Brandon, became friends while attending Burns Middle School and played in the Bloomingdale High School marching band. They went on to be college roommates. After graduation, they returned to Tampa and started their career and families. As they were raising their three kids each, they were both concerned with the emphasis on extracurricular activities, organized sports and the general lack of excitement/support for allowing their kids to just play.

The two friends learned of the concept of an adventure playground when Willman was invited to take pictures at a play conference in the early spring of 2019. The seeds of Rooted in Play were planted right then and there.

“Rooted in Play is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating time, space and a place for all children to engage in self-directed, outdoor play,” Willman said. “This mission is accomplished by hosting free, pop-up playgrounds at local parks and providing information, tools and resources about play. The benefits of getting children outside to play include an increase in physical activity, mental health, creativity, concentration, vocabulary and motor skills.”

Rooted in Play hosted its first pop-up adventure playground on Earth Day in 2019.

“Since then, we have hosted over 10 free community events and served over 1,000 children,” Givens said.

The co-founders agree that the best part of hosting events is seeing the joy on the children’s faces as they play and observing the amazing things that they create, including water filtration systems, pirate ships, roller coasters and even a Newton’s cradle.

“The long-term vision for Rooted in Play is a world where child-led play is recognized as a child’s right and valued as a key component of their health, learning, growth and wellbeing,” Willman said. “To accomplish this, Rooted in Play is dedicated to making Tampa and its surrounding areas a leader in the playable cities trend by continuing to host pop-up adventure playgrounds, creating ‘Play Hubs’ at local parks for regular play sessions and spreading the message about the benefits of self-directed, outdoor play.”

If you would like to learn more about Rooted in Play, you can visit its website at www.rootedinplay.org.

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Libby is a writer for The Osprey Observer/The Christian Voice. She started as an intern in 2009 and upon finishing her internship, she was asked to stay on as a permanent writer for both papers. Libby lives in Brandon with her two rescue dogs, Olive and Bogey.