When I was a young child in kindergarten my class would walk down to the Credit River in Misissauga, Ontario, every Friday morning. We would walk along the river and sometimes collect leaves, pebbles, sticks or pinecones for craft projects. We learned about the natural world by exploring and experiencing the sounds and texture of the nature around us.
This past winter my boyfriend and I took a trip to the White Mountains in New Hampshire where we went snowshoeing through the Flume Gorge in Lincoln. As we snowshoed along the flume we noticed that the water was running beneath the ice and snow. We came to an area where the water was exposed and we plopped some large pieces of snow and ice into the water to see how the water flow would change. We were so engaged as we watched the water react to the blocks of snow or ice that we added; It made me think of how and why we design water play within the playground environment.
I was reminded of the Cambridge Common playground where the children take the wooden building blocks and try to dam the flowing water in the channels; They watch as the water slows down and moves around the blocks. The blocks weren’t put in the playground specifically for that use but the children thought creatively and that is a wonderful thing to see!
It is important that we design equipment that gives children the opportunity to discover and learn on their own. Children learn by doing and experiencing for themselves: pumping the water pump releases water, pulling on a plug-valve lets water out of the mixing basin and turning a knob on the water gate lets water flow out etc…
Equipment should be open-ended so that it may be used in different ways. When the water was shut off last autumn, I watched the children fill pails of water from the drinking foundation and carry them over to the water play area to continue playing even without access to the water pump. What resourceful thinking; Now this is where ingenuity is born!
It’s not always easy or convenient to go to a river, flume or lake so it is all the more important we give children opportunities to learn and experience nature and the natural environment close to home.
Have you been to a nature playground, children’s garden or some other natural or sensory play area lately? We’d love to hear about it! Send your comments and pictures and we will share them on our blog.