Imagination Playground by Hillary Massey
On a rainy May morning, three kindergarten girls are on stage at Kennebunk Elementary School, singing a pop song together into their microphones. While the singing is very sincere, the props are a bit unusual — the stage and microphones have been constructed out of large blue foam pieces that, only moments ago, had been part of a large, cave-like structure. The girls, with their class and teacher Ellen Towne, are using the school’s new Imagination Playground.
The Imagination Playground is an assortment of foam blocks, balls, noodles and other shapes that can be combined in ways as endless as a child’s imagination. Principal Sara Zito explains that she saw a piece about the Imagination Playground on the Today show, and knew immediately that she had to find a way to get one for the school. She appreciates the many ways the school can use the Playground (indoor recess, physical education, supplementation of the curriculum), but more importantly she recognizes the potential for student growth.
That growth is already apparent. This is the third time that Towne’s class has used the Playground, and they’re more sophisticated in their construction techniques and creativity with each exposure. The best part is that using the Playground feels so much like play, the students don’t even realize they are improving their spatial awareness, problem-solving and teamwork, among other skills.
Jordan explains that he enjoys using the Imagination Playground because he “can build big structures, like castles.” Classmate Emma agrees. She has assembled the walls on her foam house several times, revising until satisfied, and now works with a friend to determine which piece will most effectively function as a roof. Such teamwork and conflict resolution are the less obvious benefits of the Playground. When the children disagree about how to build a structure, or how to share the pieces, Towne uses those opportunities to encourage them to find solutions.
While lining up to return to class, the children are buzzing with excitement about the structures they created. For Tucker, this highlight was building a stage and performing with his friends, which was something the class had not done when they’d used the Playground previously. No doubt the students will construct something entirely new the next time they use it.
Kennebunk Elementary School purchased the Imagination Playground with two grants, one from The Education Foundation of the Kennebunks and Arundel, the second, a grant from the Lego Children’s Fund secured by RSU#21.