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!

 

 

 

I Like Pumpkins – Post #1 : Field Trip

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I have to start by explaining the the title of this series. “I Like Pumpkins” is the name of a book we must have read at least 15 times in the past few months. As any parent with a young child knows, sometimes children develop strong preferences that are then imposed on you. I have to admit, I have hidden this book twice  (not that it’s not a good book, but I am so bored of reading it!) but every time my daughter finds it, she brings it to me to read. She knows the story so well that sometimes, I ask her to “read” it to me.

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Our work with pumpkins this year started off with a visit to Cobb’s Corn Maze. This is the same place we went to last year, however, because H was a year older, she was able to participate in many more of the activities. There were lots of opportunities for gross motor  (large muscle/full body) play that were included in the admission ticket. These play opportunities were appealing to both adults and children!

There was an element of biology/natural learning that happened as well. We saw a pig eating a pumpkin which prompted questions on H’s end about eating raw pumpkins and animal diets. We could also see and smell pumpkins being roasted. The intense smell and display of black and white scorched pumpkins was definitely intriguing.I wish there was some more information/exhibits on how pumpkins grow or an opportunity to see pumpkins on the vine, however this is an area that can be explored afterwards if it is of interest to the child.

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While we had initially planned to go near the beginning of October, snowy weather and other commitments kept us away until the end of the month. The hot food served on-site was particularly welcome on this chilly day. H had her first taste of poutine and used a porter potty for the first time.

Before leaving, we stopped in the pumpkin field to take photos,check out the tractors and pick out two pumpkins to bring home. Of course H picked out pumpkins bigger than I could carry so our dear friends helped us transport them back to our car.

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For a lot of educators, it seems to make sense to have a field trip at the end of a unit once children have become well-versed in various concepts, but another approach is to go on a field trip before project work begins due to its ability to spark inquiry and curiosity. Field trips can also lend themselves to symbolic play and representations, making them a rich source of inspiration and a perfect starting point for projects.

While the work we did with pumkins is still more traditional activity-based than Reggio-inspired project work, it was beneficial for me as a parent and educator to gain a better understanding of H’s interests, skills and needs.

Cobb’s Corn Maze was a great field trip experience that I think could have been enhanced by going in a group with other children and parents. Perhaps I will try to organize a field trip group to go back in the spring/summer for one of their other festivals!