Mobile Adventure Playground

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Since coming into the world of early childhood education and play, two of the concepts I’ve found most intriguing are loose parts and outdoor play. Calgary’s super cool Mobile Adventure Playground initiative marries these two ideas with some awesome implications.

As parents living in the modern world, when we think of parks and playgrounds, we (sadly) often think of permanent well-groomed areas covered in sprawling plastic structures meant to be played on (and not with!)

This mobile adventure playground challenges that concept. Instead of permanent fixed play structures, children (and adults) have access to a variety of parts (that would otherwise be lying in a landfill somewhere) and can use their imaginations, gross motor muscles, and cognitive skills (much of which can draw on science, engineering and math) to do with them whatever they’d like.

In my talk with one of the play facilatators, I discovered that thirty years ago, adventure parks and playgrounds could be found in Calgary and currently thrive in the UK, Denmark and other areas of Europe. Thanks to a grant from the Lawson Foundation, Calgary’s mobile adventure playground is one of three in Canada and grew out of a 2015 study on outdoor and play engagement and 2016 pilot period, when 2000+ people came out to play.

The mobile adventure playground is relatively easy to set up. Some of the items featured in this one were: tires, plastic crates, pieces of wood and cardboard, pipes, pieces of old play structures, kitchen items like bowls and colanders, scraps of fabric, logs, buckets, paper tubes, cable spindles and a wheelbarrow.

Like many great things, it’s not so much about product as it is about process. Initially, the children stood around not really knowing what to do but once they started exploring and imagining, their play really got going.

In my time there, I observed children create slides and fishing boats, obstacle courses and clubhouses, bunkers and moving vehicles.

There are so many great aspects of this playground:

  • it is mobile and will be set up in different locations throughout the summer (for a schedule, click here)
  • it is free to access
  • it reuses everyday materials in novel ways
  • there’s no one way or right way to set up the materials
  • the same materials result in different types of play depending on who is using them
  • the (big) size of many of the objects required children to work together to move them, fostering cooperative play
  • children that don’t know each other will probably interact, either by playing together or asking permission to use/share materials, helping to develop negotiating skills
  • socioemotional development: not only will children take pride in their play and creations, but they will also learn how to navigate more challenging emotions like loss (when someone might repurpose items they are no longer actively playing with as experienced by H and her friends); struggle and frustration (physically, cognitively and even emotionally) as children try to bring their visions to life;  and conflict when children may want to use the same materials or have different visions for what/how things should be done
  • the playground is set up outdoors allowing families to benefit from exposure to nature
  • the playground utilizes green spaces, temporarily transforming existing (neighbourhood) sites

This park is a break from the norm and would be a welcome change to summer play, especially in the case of children who:

  1. are very active and appreciate gross motor play
  2. love imaginative play
  3. enjoy using stem (science, technology, engineering, math) principles to bring their play into reality
  4. are bored of traditional park experiences

For more information on Calgary’s mobile adventure playground or to view the schedule/locations for the rest of the season, click here. If you’ve ever been exposed to an adventure park/playground, please comment with your experiences and location.

Happy Playing!

 

 

 

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Tools are Cool – Post #2: Books and Play

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A natural step in our approach to learning is to read books related to H’s interests. In the book Tools Rule, we were introduced to various tools and how they worked together to build a tool shed. H really enjoyed identifying the tools she already knew and learning the names of new tools. Naturally, she had questions about their purpose (we explore this in the next post).

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Another tool related book we read was Monkey with a Toolbelt. This book sat around our house for a few weeks before H weas ready to read it. She enjoyed the main character (Chico Bon Bon) and was particularly fascinated by his tool belt. In the story, Chico Bon Bon is a handy monkey who helps repair things in his community. One day, he gets captured by an Organ Grinder (essentially a Circus owner) and has to cleverly rely on the tools at his disposal to escape. H enjoyed the plot as it involved capture, escape and clearly definied heros and villains.

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Following building the bookshelf, H also helped out with other little tool-related tasks at home. She helped me wash our dining rooms chair frames  before we used a screwdriver to change the seat covers. She was quite helpful and kept an inventory of the screws and washers and passed me things as required. She also helped to loosen/tighten screws and we recited the easy (but helpful) rhyme: “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” as a reminder of which way to turn the screwdriver. Since I am right-handed and she is left-handed, I find it challenging at times to teach her how to do fine motor tasks with her hands.

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Play is a central part of our lives, even the boring day-to-day tasks. After we had cleaned the chairs, we moved them to our living room (where the light is better) to change the covers. I commented that they kind of looked a bus and H agreed. She rounded up a bunch of her stuffies and declared that I was the bus driver and we would be driving to the top of “tallest mountain” (a Dora the Explorer reference) and would change the chair covers there.

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A few weeks later, she worked with her dad to change the batteries in her dinosaur toy. She rifled through his tool bag to find a screw driver that matched the shape of the screws. Her dad also pointed out the plus and minus sides of the batteries and supervised her removing them and changing them.

(*Every parent knows their child best and can be the best judge of what is safe for their child to do. We keep our batteries out of reach and have talked to H about safety – she knows this is not something that is safe to do by herself). 

H enjoys dressing up (a characteristic we both share!) Over the winter holidays, I saw her using pretend tools and used this observation as evidence of her emerging interest. After the holidays ended, I brought our costume box back down to the basement, but recently brought the hard hat and tools back up. She was so excited to find them and instantly started playing with them.

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She went around the house looking for things to fix. Her father handed her a magazine and said, “My computer is broken. Can you fix it?” She brought it to the couch and started using all of her tools to fix it. It was quite interesting because while she knows an axe is used to chop wood, she made it relevant by saying she was using her axe “to chop the computer.” She also doesn’t know the correct verbs yet so invented her own way of describing what she was doing. “I have to wrench it. And screwdriver it.” She also commented on what type of screwdriver it was (based on her dad’s lesson) saying it was a “star screwdriver.” She then moved onto to fixing her dinosaur. I saw her look for the screws and use her play screwdriver to pretend to open it up (like she had with a real screwdriver when they were changing the batteries).

As an educator, it’s fascinating for me to see H deepen her own knowledge about concepts. I’ve been watching how she integrates and assimalate new knowledge into her existing schemas and how she adapts those schemas so that the new knowledge fits. The remaining posts in this series will look at additional ways we deepened our knowledge surrounding tools and how she applied this knowledge to her own creations.

I Like Pumpkins- Post #4: Hammer Time!

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Not only was I excited about this part of our pumpkin work because MC Hammer’s lyrics kept running through my head, but I was really excited to get my little girl her first real tool! This idea was actually inspired by something H did in her preschool class this year (and then I realized it was all over the internet too!)

This activity basically consists of providing children with a big pumpkin, golf tees (or any other kind of safe peg) and a hammer. I know some people are weary about handing off hammers to their toddlers. If you really want to play it safe, use a toy hammer or a wooden block (I say this begrudgingly), but I strongly recommend you allow them to handle authentic tools and materials. Not only will the experience be more authentic, but it will affect how they view themselves – hopefully as competent and intelligent learners that can be trusted with real things.

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Show them how to use it first. Hold their hand a few times, guiding the motion it required. Talk to them about the level of force that needs to be used. My daughter was having trouble holding both the pegs, and the hammer, so I held the pegs for her (while quietly praying she wouldn’t smash my fingers).

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While a five-year old may be able to do this independently, I stayed close by, providing active supervision. H was excited to try this but didn’t do it for more than ten-fifteen minutes. At the preschool, there were children who hammered in nearly 100 pegs being super engaged in the process.

This activity can be extended by showing the children how to remove the pegs- either manually, or by using the back of the hammer to wedge them out. In addition to fostering fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and self-esteem, this experience can be used to augment numeracy and math skills too. You can  give the children elastic bands to stretch over the pegs in different shapes (like a geoboard) and explore geometry as well as count the number of pegs used (this is a great time to practice counting in a second language!)

I purchased this child-sized hammer at the Home Depot for less than $8.00. My husband was a little bit confused about why our then two-year old daughter needed a real hammer but I’m sure we will do more projects with it over the summer. You can buy golf tees in the sports department of any store, or if you need to be frugal, post an ad online or visit a golf course and ask them for any loose golf tees they may have lying around.

I can also happily report that H has taken an active interest in tools over the past few weeks. Not only has her fondness of Paw Patrol and Animal Mechanicals contributed to this budding interest, but she has been engaging with a dramatic play tool set and asking us the names of the various tools as she has seen lying around the house. Further fostering her interest in using tools would be a good application of emergent curriculum.

Just a Pool Noodle…

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Just a pool noodle is what one may see with an untrained eye and an uninspired heart, but for children whose hearts are full of dreams and whose minds are abundant with theories and hypotheses, this long, bendy, lime green tube is symbolic of so much more.

I bought this pool noodle last month to use as a guard rail to keep my toddler from falling out of bed. It soon found its way into my preschool classroom where children both cautiously and confidently approached it, transforming this simple item into props that suited their play. A few weeks later it found its way back into my house where it continued to take on various identities.

This pool noodle has been on the frontline of battle, used in a swordfight against a pirate;

This pool noodle has been a fairy wand, transforming classmates and teachers into frogs;

This pool noodle has been a butterfly catcher, reaching high to graze wonders usually out of reach;

This pool noodle has been a horse, straddled to gallop far and wide;

This pool noodle has been a baby, cradled tenderly and cuddled as night falls;

This pool noodle has been a tunnel through which imaginary friends escape;

This pool noodle has been a rope, used to climb to faraway places;

This pool noodle has been a slide, used to descend back to safety;

This pool noodle has been a telescope, through which perspectives have changed;

This pool noodle has been a telephone, through which not so quiet “I love you”s have been exchanged;

This pool noodle has ignited imaginations, sparked adventures and given way to many moments of learning;

This pool noodle is a reminder of the power and value of everyday, ordinary objects in children’s play.