Dusty Miles


The Family That Engages Together Stays Together

The Family That Engages Together Stays Together

In a July 2017 TED Talk, I narrated the story of why Devon and I decided to create SPARK! I share an excerpt from that now to address the SPARK! model of engaging the entire family.

My husband, Devon and I have three nieces and one nephew.  When they were young, we took them on field trips to introduce them to new opportunities and experiences. We took those kids to sculpture parks, history museums, science museums, art museums, and more.   All this with the goal of opening their eyes to new and exciting possibilities.  

In 2003, something totally unexpected happened.  We visited City Museum in St. Louis for the first time.  We were all mesmerized – the kids and the adults. We played and explored in a wildly creative environment.  After a while the kids started asking questions such as: How does that work? Who thought of that? How did they make that?  And then, they asked, “Can we make something like that?” It was incredible. They were asking questions to learn. Their eyes were open to remarkable possibilities.  When we returned home, we were able to engage them in hands-on learning per their request.  

These experiences led us to the decision to found SPARK! and build a facility that offers families creative immersion and exploration with hands-on learning.  That means we want the parents and guardians to engage along with their kids. SPARK! provides a much needed and hard-to-find, unique opportunity for the entire family to explore, discover and create side-by-side.  

A large body of research shows that playtime with parents is important to the development of children.  And, kids crave time with their parents. During play, we have the opportunity to get involved, to praise them, encourage them and laugh with them.  Play can help you discover your child’s special interests and skills. Playing with children builds a lasting bond and lets the child know they are loved.

SPARK! offers many opportunities for family fun in two basic ways: physical exploration and hands-on creative experiences.  Our stated vision is, “To provide a unique environment, that combined with creative programming inspires minds, builds confidence and shapes the future for all children.”

Physical Exploration

In our Climb, Crawl, Slide sculpture, both children and adults are given the opportunity to move, all while exploring a wildly unique and physically challenging environment.  

“We find that parents lose the ability to play,” said Nancy O’Conner, director of the Kansas State University Family Center in a statement to Newswise.  She suggests that parents relearn the ability to play.

Physical movement and childlike play is also a great stress reducer for adults. Family activities help develop strong and lasting bonds.  Exploration such as that offered at SPARK! builds gross motor skills, communication, supportive collaboration and cognitive development. These experiences also build self-esteem, social skills and a sense of connectedness that help kids and teens learn to use good judgment when confronted with difficulties and temptations.

The family that plays together stays together. 

Hands-On Creative Experiences

Family visits to SPARK! should include participation in pop-up creative experiences.  SPARK! is not just an indoor playground. It is a creative experience that offers physical exploration and discovery in conjunction with the creative endeavor.   Our mission is “To ignite the spark of creativity inherent in all children.”

Pop-up opportunities vary by visit and explore creativity through dozens of art mediums, music, performance, dance, virtual reality and more.  These programs are designed for the family with children second grade and older and provide opportunities to innovate together.  

Creative exercises provide a platform for children to practice patience, problem solving, social skills, and iteration.  In today’s academic environment, children are pressured to get the correct answer and are rarely offered the open-ended opportunity to explore alternatives, work through trial and error and yes, even fail.  SPARK! provides a safe place for all of this. 

Children who define themselves as creative have higher self-esteem, better problem-solving skills and go further in their education.  Parents who engage in creative and other learning opportunities with their children tend to have more positive and open relationships with their children.  Jane Dee Hull, the first female governor of Arizona, once said, “At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child’s success is the positive involvement of parents.”

The family that creates together stays together.