Copper River Record November 8, 2018
By Robin Mayo
Albert Einstein once said “Play is the highest form of research.” Kids of all ages desperately need free-form outdoor play to develop their creativity, problem solving, self reliance, coordination, and many other essential skills. With this in mind, WISE is planning to develop a “Pop-Up Natural Playground” for Copper Valley youth.
I first saw this type of playground at a Children and Nature Network Conference in Vancouver BC in 2017. A large area of a waterfront park had been roped off and filled with a wide variety of materials including bales of straw, a large pile of soil, logs and sticks of all sizes and shapes, rope, burlap, and lumber. There was no formal instruction and very few rules, but kids knew exactly what to do. Every time I walked by the area was full of kids creating forts, making their own play structures, or digging industriously in the dirt. At the end of the week they raked up the mess and packed up the materials to donate to a local school.
This type of play has become increasingly rare, and both research and common sense indicate that it is valuable for kids, not just as a welcome break from an over-structured world, but an essential ingredient for developing brains. It is a chance to try out ideas, make mistakes, and figure out how the world works. It also happens to be a ton of fun.
WISE is working on planning and funding for a project we are calling the “Pop-Up Natural Playground.” We will collect materials and come up with procedures for setting up, supervising, and dismantling temporary natural playgrounds at local schools and public events. The playgrounds will be roped off areas stocked with natural materials to encourage free-form play, which can be set up for an afternoon, or for several weeks. WISE volunteers will supervise, making sure the play is safe and inclusive. Afterwards, we will pack the materials into our trailer, ready for the next adventure.
One of the keys of this type of playground is that it is kid-directed, with minimal leadership or interference from the adults present. In the reading I’ve been doing, one of the challenges is encouraging parents and other adults to step back and let the kids do what they want. Perhaps we’ll have to designate adult times when the more mature “kids” in our communities can also have a go at building forts!
On “Giving Tuesday,” (November 27th) WISE will launch a crowdfunding campaign to help raise funds for this fun new program. We will also be looking for donations of materials such as bales of straw, cable spools, rope, and logs to stock our pop-up playground. This spring we will be recruiting and training volunteers to help make our “Pop-Up Natural Playground” a reality in all the communities of the Copper River Basin. And once it is up and running, we will be looking for events where we can share the playground. If you are interested in getting involved, please call the WISE office, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This temporary playground in Vancouver BC was the inspiration for WISE’s new Pop-Up Natural Playground. Photo courtesy of Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.