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  • What we can learn from a Hello Kitty space rocket

    February 28, 2013 Kerala Taylor

    What do babies and scientists have in common? According to Laura Schulz, an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, they both go through “a systematic process of forming hypotheses and testing them based on observed evidence.”

    Though child’s play is naturally compatible with scientific exploration, the United States is failing to nurture its little scientists. We rank 23rd in science among developed countries, diminishing our ability to compete in the global marketplace. 

    We obsess over test scores, but we should really be encouraging more students like Lauren Rojas (pictured above), a seventh grader in Antioch, Calif., who set out to test the effects of altitude on air pressure and temperature for her science fair project. And what better way to do that than to launch a homemade “rocket” into space using a do-it-yourself balloon kit?

    Lauren added her own creative touches to the balloon, fashioning a shiny rocket structure that included a Hello Kitty pilot. "I liked her ever since I was 6 years old," Lauren told the New York Daily News. "My love for Hello Kitty has never gone away and I thought it would be really fun to add a toy inside the rocket." The doll got quite a ride, reaching an altitude of nearly 18 miles. As the balloon expanded to 53 times larger than its original size at takeoff, it eventually burst open, landing in a tree 47.5 miles from the launch sight.

    You can watch the journey here:

    Lauren was named one of four top award winners at her science fair and will go on to compete in a regional competition. While she learned an unforgettable science lesson on altitude, air pressure, and temperature, we stand to learn a valuable lesson too. Child’s play is not a ‘frivolous’ activity that distracts from ‘weighty’ subjects like science and math. Rather, it is a core component that we must nurture from pre-K to high school—and beyond.

    Photo via Contra Costa Times.

  • Whether inventing a recipe, building a club house, or sewing a rag doll, kids love to make things. Not only do they get to learn for themselves what works (and what doesn't!), but they get to enjoy and show off a tangible product at the end of it.

    The Maker Movement, which has been gaining ground in recent years, is as much for kids as for adults. In fact, Phillip Torrone of Make Magazine believes that "the Maker Movement belongs to the kids now." He says that for the kids he meets these days:

    ...the idea of making things, taking things apart and sharing has not been something new, it’s something that’s always been there for them. The average maker isn’t just a 35 year old guy, it’s becoming a 10 year old girl or boy with a 3D printer.

    Get your kids started at one of the many family festivals geared toward hammer-wielding children. This Saturday, Sept 22 in Washington, DC, the National Building Museum is hosting The Big Build, where kids can build a brick wall, construct a log cabin, carve stone, compete in a nail driving contest, and play with huge foam blocks in Imagination Playground (provided by yours truly!).

    See photos from previous Big Builds:

    Next weekend, September 29-30, is the World Maker Faire, a "family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness" in New York City. Mini Maker Faires are happening all over the country (and globe!) -- find one near you here. The National Building Museum is also hosting a Discover Engineering Family Day in February.

    It's time to break out the toolbox, open the craft drawer, rummage through the pantry, and start making!

    Top photo via National Building Museum.

  • Would you send your child to a school that gives its students hammers instead of standardized tests? Brightworks, a K-12 school in San Francisco, takes experiential learning to a whole new level. As it proudly proclaims on its website: "Our students fly kites, experiment with wind tunnels, and build turbines."

    Founded by renowned tinkerer Gever Tulley, the school abides by the philosophy that tinkering and play are at the heart of learning. Student achievement is measured not by testing, but by exploration, expression, and exposition.

    See Brightworks in action:

    Would you send your child here?

     

  • Over the past few weeks, two Ohio parents have become Internet celebrities for the 12-foot-high roller coaster they built for their kids out of PVC pipe. We are duly impressed. Though we build nearly 200 playgrounds a year, we have yet to build a roller coaster. 

    Do you know what's even more impressive? In California, a group of tweens and teens are building their own roller coaster at Gever Tulley's Tinkering School. That means they not only get to experience the thrill of the ride, but are also learning valuable construction and engineering lessons along the way.

    See more photos here.

  • This kid might be the next Steve Jobs

    March 19, 2012 Kerala Taylor

    "If we don't let our children play, who will be the next Steve Jobs?" Last year our CEO & Founder Darell Hammond posed this question in his Huffington Post blog. Judging from the nearly 25,000 readers who shared the post via social media, clearly some other folks are wondering, too.

    Well, we just may have found him. Audri, the seven-year-old featured in this video, has built his very own "Monster Trap," similar in concept to the mouse trap in the popular board game of the same name -- except way cooler.

    As Dr. Alison Gopnik aptly noted in a recent presentation at our annual Play Academy, "The point of play is not getting the right answers, it's getting all the wrong answers." Audri seems to intuitively understand this, remarking of his contraption: "I think it will have 10 to 20 failures and two successes. That's my hypothesis."

    See if Audri's hypothesis proved correct: