Richardson Center’s new Imagination Playground lets students be in control of their own play environment
Sometimes what comes in a box isn’t nearly as cool as the box itself.
I witnessed this for myself just the other day when the Ping-Pong table my 7-year-old son got for Christmas arrived via UPS. He couldn’t wait to play with it, but once the table was set up, it took a backseat to the fort he and the neighborhood kids made in the garage with the packing materials.
David Rockwell understands the concept of letting kids be kids and the power that imaginative free play brings. Nearly four years ago after watching his own kids play, Rockwell set out on a journey to see what types of playgrounds provide the most immersive, complete experience that engage what kids do best — that is to make their own rules, create their own environments, take them apart and start all over again.
“Every parent has an opinion about how children should play,” Rockwell said. “It’s something grownups want to control. But, the more I have observed kids playing, they do it best themselves.”
As a result, Rockwell created a new take on the traditional playground. His model forgoes the familiar swing set, monkey bars, slide, and sand box, giving way to simple, life-size blue foam blocks and connectors. Think Tinker Toys on steroids.
These so called Imagination Playgrounds in a Cart allow children to manipulate their environment and create a playground of their own design, only limited by their own imagination.
There are more than 600 Imagination Playgrounds across the United States, including two new ones right here in Bakersfield, thanks to a grant that was recently awarded to KCSOS by KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to saving play for America’s children.
On a recent Thursday, the Imagination Playground in a Cart was on full display inside the cafeteria at Richardson Child Development Center.
The system could have easily been moved outdoors if not for poor air quality that day. All the blue parts fit neatly into huge crates on wheels. It’s like a portable playground in a bin.
“We have really been having fun with it,” Richardson Center teacher Virginia Mitchell said speaking of the creative play the blocks have promoted. “The children even made a leaf blower!”
Across the room, young Sophia was engaged in a game of golf with herself, taking one of the long foam connectors and driving a ball across the floor. Others made castles and houses, and there was even a game of limbo going on.
In an age when childhood obesity is rampant and kids spend their summer days and weekends tethered to something with a cord or LED screen, experts hope that play as we’ve long known it won’t go the way of the dinosaur.
Thanks to play innovators like Rockwell and non-profits like KaBoom!, great strides are being made to help youngsters develop good play habits, socialization skills, healthy lifestyles, and above all else, have fun.
— Rob Meszaros