Friday, March 30, 2012

PlayWatch: Play Spaces

These observations of creative, collaborative play in the Museum’s Play Spaces program – which encourages kids to build with an array of interesting, everyday materials – were shared by AmeriCorps Museum Educator Stacy Greenberg.

While many children sought to create the tallest structures they could, a group of 5-year-olds found building long, twisty paths was much more entertaining. These “magic roads” were full of tricks because each material had its own “super power” – for example, foam was a skip-only zone. I’m not sure whether they had more fun meticulously building their obstacle course or watching one another skip over foam, crawl through hula-hoop tunnels, balance on noodles, or bust a move in the dance party room!

One adventurer draped a snakeskin-printed cloth over chairs and tables to create a jungle. Though his parents were spectators at first, he eventually coaxed his dad in by telling him the floor was quicksand, and together they navigated a swamp of giant plushy noodles and trees. The adventure quickly became a pretend play crusade, with dad inventing challenges, too: “There’s a tiger over there! What do we do?” By the time lunch rolled around, the dynamic duo had battled wild beasts and survived a cliff jump, then rode elephants back home.

An avid hula hooper was determined to incorporate hoops into her creation. She arranged chairs into a star, using them to prop up two large plush noodles, and taped pipe circles on top. She draped two shiny sheets over the pipes, carefully positioning them so they wouldn’t slide. Her mom was involved and supportive. She was engaged in her daughter’s play, helping her think about what to do next and challenging her with questions like, “How will you get it to stay?” and “What can you do next?”

Two siblings warily entered the program and just wanted to watch at first. After a little while, they began experimenting with materials. The boy, age 5, tried to attach a dowel to a cardboard box, but it accidentally poked through. Inspired, he pushed the dowel through the other side and affixed giant foam shapes to either end. Suddenly, the creation had wings! He added a third foam piece for the head and decided it was a bird. His sister joined in on coloring, sharing that it is a red bird with yellow and orange feathers. As they colored, they developed a story of who the bird is and how he came to the Museum.

Inspired by other creations, another set of siblings chose to build a house. It had a pointed top, made with poles and draped fabric. To make it even homier, the boy (age 7) decorated the inside with things that reminded him of home – his favorite books, his toys, and animals he likes. Meanwhile, his 5-year-old sister added a second room for herself. The boy was eager to help and excited for his sister to “move in.” With added flourishes like windows, decorations and a crumpled newspaper doorknob the house quickly became a beloved home.

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