The Workyard Kit: Teaching science & math through play

How do you recreate the value of playing with sticks and dirt? When it comes to playing, industrial designer Cas Holman admits, "You really can't beat letting kids play in nature." But that hasn’t stopped her from trying.

The Workyard Kit, Holman’s latest invention, riffs on the idea that “play is children’s work.” Consisting of wooden planks, ropes, pulleys, hooks and pails, the kit is designed for deeply engaging, open-ended play. Or, as Holman puts it: "cooperative, constructive imagining."

Photo by Rowa Lee, courtesy of Friends of the High Line.

Photo by Rowa Lee, courtesy of Friends of the High Line.

A key creative force behind Imagination Playground, Holman was approached by Friends of the Highline and asked to come up with a way to engage families and kids in New York City’s High Line  Park, which converted an old railroad into green space. She wanted to take advantage of the narrow park’s many nooks and crannies and harness its industrial spirit.

Photo by Rowa Lee, courtesy of Friends of the High Line.

Photo by Joan Garvin, courtesy of Friends of the High Line.

And so the Workyard Kit was born. Seeing its success, Holman realized that the kit could have potential beyond The High Line and set about designing it for mass production.
The kit is currently being tested at a number of pilot schools around the country, where Holman hopes it can enhance STEM curricula. In fact, Holman says, STEM should really be STEAM, because without an ‘A’ for ‘art,’ how can children flex the creative muscles they need to excel in science, technology, engineering and math?

The Workyard Kit has no “right” solution. It’s not a puzzle. It’s designed for open-ended prompts that help children think spatially, use their imaginations, and work collaboratively. Examples include:

  • With these parts, how can you make something that would hold a 10-pound bag of potatoes?
  • How can you make something that would fly to the moon?
  • What can you build with 10 parts?

  
Left photo by Rowa Lee, right photo by Adriana Stimola. Courtesy of Friends of the High Line.

If we here at KaBOOM! got our way, every classroom would have a Workyard Kit and every schoolyard would have an Imagination Playground. Because when it comes to true learning, hands-on, creative, collaborative play beats a standardized test any day of the week.

 

Cas Holman teaches Industrial Design at Rhode Island School for Design and is part of its STEM to STEAM initiative. For more information about the Workyard Kit and to learn about a backyard version, visit WorkyardKit.com. To see Cas Holman’s other projects, visit CasHolman.com. To find the Workyard Kit on the High Line, visit TheHighline.org.

About Kerala Taylor

Kerala Taylor manages online content and outreach for KaBOOM!. She is also co-founder of Glimpse.org, author of How Things Break, and a blogger for BabyCenter.com. A proud new mama, she'll be making sure her daughter gets plenty of healthy, unstructured, outdoor play.

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