STEM Activities for kids: Imaginary Playgrounds using scrap paper!
“The creative adult is the child who survived.” I love this quote and it is the inspiration for this post on creative play and imaginary playgrounds to help you integrate STEM activities into your classroom or at home with your own children!
Children are born creative and all we need to do is “get-out-of-the-way” when it comes to their ideas and creativity. It is our job to keep our students from “growing up” when it comes to creative thinking and problem solving . We don’t know what the world will look like when our students are adults but we do know that creative thinking and problem solving skills will always be essential to surviving and thriving.
We must provide our students with creative moments where it doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong, it doesn’t matter what their test score says and it doesn’t matter what others think. We should strive to provide our students with moments that inspire them and moments that allow them to feel safe to create without judgement or fear of being wrong. It’s tempting to tell them everything we think they need to know but if they don’t experice the joy of discovery then they will never truly get the “love of learning” feeling we want them to have. If you haven’t read my article with the Ken Robinson video on killing creativity it’s an absolute must and you can see it HERE.
I designed this Imaginary Playground STEM activity to allow children an opportunity to use their creative play for discovery. This lesson is successful because kids can easily relate to playgrounds making this relevant to their lives and they love to play so this lesson easily engages children. To start this lesson I simply asked the question, “If you could design your own playground what would it look like?” The kids took it from there. This is lesson is great anytime of the year but I always started the year off with it as a fun back-to-school activity.
Watch a short video (35 seconds) I shot after one of my classes left – with all the imaginary playgrounds on the back counter.
To do this project provide your students with a variety of paper strips that are anywhere from 1/4″ to 1″ wide and as long as you want them to be (this is a great time to use up scrap paper). Playgrounds are colorful so I like to give kids all different colors to use. I also provide a “base” for the playground that is usually 6″ x 18″ (but you can use any size you want). Provide glue for your students but no need to give them scissors, they can tear the paper if they want to change the size and that’s really good for their fine motor skill muscles. I task students to design an imaginary playground. I don’t tell them much more than that – and they never question me – they just jump right in!
To watch children with this project is fascinating–they go crazy dreaming up the coolest playground they can imagine. All children love to play and this project connects to something they care about, know about and allows them to use their imaginations. If playground design companies included children in the design process they’d come up with some pretty neat and original ideas, wouldn’t you say?! This is engineering and design at it’s best!
As students are creating you will see them solve design problems like how to fold the paper, scrunch it, curl it, etc to get it to do what they want it to do. After the lesson I like to review those techniques they discovered and list the ways we used the paper by writing all the techniques on the board.
Students always have a story to tell about their playgrounds. They can tell you exactly what every piece of paper is and how they all work together. Often times they even include a bench for their mom or dad to sit on and watch them play. Listening to them talk about their final designs is my favorite part of this lesson. I encourage you to display these playgrounds and provide students with time to explain their playgrounds to other children and adults. We often showed ours in the library and they would be great at any open house event.
If you are looking for other fun STEM activities for your children (or STEAM) check out my brown bag art challenge lesson that is available for free on The Cornerstone website HERE.
Remember to hashtag #artwithjennyk on social media to share your projects with me. I love seeing all the wonderful things kids make. You can find some of my FREE resources HERE as well to help you with integrating art into your classroom.