Thursday, April 19, 2012

Imagination Playground Impressions

We invited a group of 12 kids, ages 4 to 11, for a sneak preview of Imagination Playground before the grand opening and Museum staff shared their first impressions.

Cathy Saunders, Director of Education: 
After the children were first introduced to the blocks, I was struck by the silence in the room. Silent except for the soft sounds of blocks sliding on the floor or thumping as they were stacked on top of each other. There was an intense focus as the children explored the new materials – turning them, stacking them, seeing which ones fit together and connected. After about 10 minutes, conversations and collaborations started happening.

Janice O’Donnell, Executive Director: 
It only took seconds for the kids to start piling the blocks, seeing what attached to what, forming new structures, engineering complex ramps for balls, negotiating for the shapes they needed to complete their vision. Some snippets of their conversations:

"Lets make stairs. Can I have those to make stairs?"
"Yeah! Stairs!" "We need one more block."
"It's a little wobbly"
"We need to support it."
"Try this one."
"This side is not stable. We don't want someone to step there."
"This works. Hey look - this works fine."

"The bad thing is it's foam so when you put weight on it, it goes down and the wheels come off."
"Can these hold the wheels on?"
"Maybe. Let's try it."

"We're going to do a test. Stand back. Let's test it."
"See what I mean? It interferes with the ball."
"Yeah, it's super slow now."
"Wait! I have an idea. Use this!"
"Oh yeah. That solves it. Whoa!"

Mary Scott Hackman, Early Childhood Programs Coordinator:
A very impressive builder (whose father is a city planner, his mother a mathematician) said he wanted to create a roller coaster and was very specific about the type of blocks he wanted more of, saying, "I need one like this but the curve needs to go in the absolute opposite direction."

On the first public day, the age span at one point was from 2 to 12. The 12 year old was a girl who was involved for nearly an hour. One mother said, "My boy is 9 and when he saw the blocks, his eyes lit up like I have not seen in a while."

Carly Baumann, Education Programs Coordinator: 
Introducing additional loose parts inspired new possibilities with the blocks. Some were used as tools – one boy discovered the ends of noodles fit perfectly snug inside cardboard tubes, which allowed him to extend the noodles in the design of an arch, and also attach either end of a noodle into a circle. Two other children invented their own carnival games – a plastic ring, rope and tubes became a ring toss, with the blocks used to bolster the tube.

Of course the children who were collaborating used language to make plans: "Let's try and make a track!" But I also noticed how much they worked in a flow that didn't need words. The roller coaster took on a life of its own and the children negotiated seamlessly in non-verbal ways that adults don't seem to access as easily with one another.

A child who built a sculpture on his own asked to borrow his mother's phone to document his creation. He took photos from many perspectives – at a distance, high, low, close-ups. What an interesting window into how he saw his own process.

When fabric was introduced, two girls began creating a space they could climb inside together. They began with fabric draped over blocks at four corners, and got inside, heads supporting the fabric: "It's hot in here, actually." They reshaped their tent in three more configurations, each time to create more space for themselves and with a more complex design. They used noodles as crossbars, first set up apart from one another and then strengthened them by intersecting the noodles much like real tent poles.

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