About 45 preschoolers stood on their toes in the Creative School for Children’s playground, curiosity building as staffers rolled out large carts covered with blue vinyl drapes.
UCF’s early childhood center’s director Amy Hesse asked the children to guess what was inside the carts. Children shouted out “wood” and “toys.” When one child finally said “shapes” staffers pulled back the covers and the children rushed forward. They giggled and laughed as they started pulling out shapes that looked like giant puzzle pieces. Teachers told them to go build and have fun.
For more than an hour, the children hauled piece after piece and began to build, letting their imaginations soar.
One boy built what he called a rolling wall. Another group built a space shuttle train. Two girls discussed how they were going to “fix the problem” when they couldn’t roll a small ball through one section of their roller coaster masterpiece. Another group turned square, rectangular and circular shapes made of sturdy, but pliable material into a make-shift fire station. They sprayed each other with long tubular pieces and imaginary water. Sweat dripped off their tiny faces and backs as they ran to gather more pieces and continue to build.
The pieces make up the school’s new Imagination Playground, courtesy of a grant offered through a partnership between the beverage company Dr Pepper Snapple (DPS) and the national non-profit KaBOOM! in collaboration with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). KaBOOM!, is an organization advocating for kids to have a childhood with plenty of play time. NAEYC is a professional organization committed to providing high-quality early childhood education and accredits centers that meet the group’s standards.
The grant is part of Let’s Play, a community partnership led by DPS to get kids and families active nationwide. Unstructured, child-directed play has been shown to help kids develop physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually, yet today’s kids have less time and fewer opportunities to play than any previous generation. As a result of expanded Let’s Play grants and projects, more than 1 million kids will benefit from new or improved playgrounds around the nation between 2014 and 2016.
“Play is key to a child’s development on a physical, emotional and cognitive level,” Hesse said. “And this playground allows children to use their imaginations without being limited to one specific form. They can recreate it anyway they want every day. We’re so pleased that the children love it.”