Mobile Adventure Playground

Standard

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!

 

 

 

Treasured Moments

Standard

Much of the content featured in this blog might seem intimidating to some. A lot of what I’ve posted about necessitates some kind of planning or forethought, but I also wanted to share the other side. Most of life is not made up of pre-planned curriculum. Instead, many of the most beautiful learning moments happen naturally while children play.

What dictates how much value your children receive in these moments and how much they will be able to thrive as curious and independent learners has to do with your attitude. If you dismiss and limit these moments (example: “Don’t touch that, it’s dirty!” “Don’t be silly, there’s not really a pink three-headed monster hiding behind that bush,” “It’s too __________ to go outside”) you pass on your biases and limitations to your children. You are creating the very box that you will demand they learn to think outside of as they grow.

Alternatively, cherish those small moments. While they may seem insignificant at the time, they are not only setting the course of your relationship with your child (possibly the single biggest predictor of later success), but they are going to act as a trove for future inspiration.

Here are some photos from a walk we took in September, just as summer was getting ready to melt into Autumn bliss. We didn’t know where we were going or what lay ahead. We had a lunch bag full of snacks, and an adventurous spirit one afternoon while visiting H’s grandparents and decided we needed to get outside.

One of the reasons that this was such a memorable excursion for us was that it was spontaneous. This removed a lot of the stress and work from it. We had no expectations other than to go outside. Another big reason that this was one of my favourite outings was that the natural environment provides so many deep and valuable opportunities for learning. Here are some of the concepts/play that emerged that day:

  • Bridges – we crossed a bridge and while we didn’t spend time making explicit observations, things that can be extracted (either right then or in the future when photos and memories are revisited) are that bridges usually join two things, in this case, two different types of terrain. This bridge signaled that we were leaving behind the pavement and traffic of the city and about to slip into a natural escape.
  • Shadows – not only are shadows fun, but if a child spends enough time playing with shadows, he learns that the size and position of shadows are linked to something greater, in this case, the sun. My daughter’s most frequent observation about shadows, is “Look! I’m big!” as she excitedly imagines herself much taller than she actually is.  There’s a lot of cool stuff that can be done with shadows, some of which I hope to explore in a future post.
  • Bugs – My guess is that most children are not inherently afraid of bugs. It is a learned behaviour, so try to control your squirms. My daughter marveled at discovering multiple ladybugs on the slide and we talked about how many spots they had and how they had wings hidden under their shells (she was elated to see them fly away). My summers were filled with trying to catch grasshoppers in my backyard and enumerating the variety of bugs my brother and I could find.
  • Pebbles/Sand – Some of the newer playgrounds now have this rubber type of floor but as an educator, I love the pebble/sand-filled playgrounds. The volume of loose parts this provides and the potential for open-ended play makes them significant.  Through the pictures, you can see my daughter using an empty Starbucks bottle she found on the playground to fill and pour pebbles and then later using these pebbles as “money” to for the ice cream she ordered.
  • Natural found items – At one point, I asked my daughter to find anything she thought was beautiful and place it on the platform where I was sitting. I joined her in this task and at the end we admired our collection. The park is filled with so many varying and rich materials – drawing children’s attention to their properties can help create an eye for detail.
  • Dandelion Puffs– On our walk back home, we stopped to rest in a field where dandelion puffs blossomed in abundance. H was intrigued by these and I showed her how we can make a wish/duah and blow them away. It’s truly a magical moment for children to witness the dandelion seeds blowing into the wind.

We didn’t bring any toys or special equipment on this trip. All we had was time and a sense of peace that filled the space. So if you’re at a loss about what to do with your child, take a deep breath and head outside. Let go of your expectations and follow your child’s lead.