A New Foundation That Believes in the Power of Play for Kids

A new foundation is on the scene to help bolster funding for early childhood development. And what do they want little kids to do? Calculus in the cradle? Digital skills training in diapers? SAT prep in kindergarten? 

Thankfully, no. The Caplan Foundation for Early Childhood has its priorities straight and knows a few things about how to support our littlest folk, and more academic pressure and testing is not what they are into. Play—physical, emotional, verbal—in early childhood is what this foundation is all about.

Theresa and Frank Caplan were the creators of Creative Playthings, one of the first companies to design and manufacture toys aimed at enhancing imagination and learning in young children. The Caplan Foundation for Early Childhood was created in 2014 with a bequest from Theresa Caplan which stipulated that her estate be used to "incubate innovation and research addressing the needs of children from birth through age five." 

This foundation's roots are deep in play. In 1949, Creative Playthings was a pioneer in developing innovative materials for school as well furniture that could be stacked and rearranged to optimize classroom space. It introduced racially diverse and anatomically correct dolls, and went on to create the Princeton Center for Infancy and Early Childhood in 1975, a pioneering research and publishing organization focused on parent education. The couple researched and co-authored the national bestselling series The First Twelve Months of Life (1977), which had two follow-up books in the series that spanned childhood development all the way to six years. They also co-authored The Power of Play in 1973.

Now, through the bequest of Theresa, the couples' work will live on in a new wayhelping children reach their full potential by funding programs that enhance health and well-being in the first five years. The foundation funds three areas:

  • Early Childhood Welfaresupport for research into best child-rearing practices and identifying models to encourage creativity and caring environments for small children.
  • Early Childhood Education and Playsupport to improve the quality of early childhood teaching and learning as well as the design of imaginative play material and creative learning environments.
  • Parenting Educationsupport for programs that teach parents about child development and issues of health as well as providing cognitive and emotional support to parents. 

The Caplan Foundation comes along at an interesting moment. For years, we've seen funders throwing money at efforts to raise academic standards in schools, bolster STEM, and otherwise get U.S. kids to buckle down and study more rigorously. Lately, though, we've seen evidence of a pushback against those trends by other funders who are worried about nurturing creativity and an appreciation of the liberal arts.

The United States has been through this cycle before: The 1950s and early 1960s saw a big national emphasis on science, technology, and systems. The late 1960s and 1970s saw the rise of a set of countervailing humanist values—a shift that Theresa and Frank Caplan were very much a part of. 

Because the Caplan Foundation is so new, we are not aware of any grants going out yet. But we are excited to see a new player in this arena with a history suggesting a keen awareness of the essential importance of a healthy first five years.

The two-step process for applying to the Caplan Foundation includes a letter of inquiry, which the foundation will respond to within 60 days, and a grant application with a narrative of about 1,000 words describing your program and how it fits their parameters, and a detailed program budget. Letters of inquiry are accepted on a rolling basis.