Monday, September 28, 2015

Playing with Possibilities at the Playeum

I have an eight year old who is obsessed with the right answer. We didn't teach it but there's an inherent need to make sure the answer is right. So we try our best to send across the message that getting things wrong is okay and it's part of learning. Part of it is inherent, the other part of it is bred by our school system where there is always a right way, right answer and attaining that is highly rewarded. That's good for some things. But not so good for others.

In such a system, some things fall by the way side. Divergent Thinking is one of them. Divergent Thinking is the ability to see many answers to the same question. Not entirely the same thing as creativity but where new ideas and new ways of doing things come from. This idea, I learnt from Ken Robinson and is something that we struggle to make known to the twins, especially, who are already entrenched in this culture of right and wrong.

How do we do try to do that? We don't dictate how they play. When they ask what they ought to do next, we ask them to go figure it out for themselves. We find toys and opportunities for play that are open-ended.

One of the opportunities that was given to us recently was an invitation to  Playeum; The Children's Centre for Creativity at Gillman Barracks. Unlike most indoor play areas, there aren't set ways to play. The closest I've seen to this is Kaboodle Kids, a play gym entirely made out of foam blocks. But Playeum worked on a theme (The Art of Speed) rather than a particular type of play.

The entire centre was broken up into different spaces where you could do different things. The theme of speed basically meant that there were a lot of wheels associated with the play. Along side the wheels were troughs and troughs of Lego and play pieces for the children to assemble what they felt might work on the various ramps. 

And that, was the great testament to divergent play. No one knew what was the perfect way to build a contraption that would survive the steep ramp without an explosion of Lego all over the place. Every child, including mine, went back again and again, adapting their vehicles trying to figure out what worked better. Eventually Evan worked out that it was all in the wheels. The black wheels with threads offered too much traction and it didn't gain enough speed down the ramp; that meant it couldn't jump the divide between ramps and his creations often crashed and burned in what we started to fondly refer to as The Valley of Broken Dreams.

When he figured it out, he taught it to Muffin and Muffin ended up creating a zoom-worthy vehicle that ended up as a blur no matter how many shots we tried to take of it. It was interesting to note also that despite the fact that Evan told Muffin how to build his vehicle, their vehicles looked markedly different and while Muffin watched how Evan built his, he went off to create his own.


We were late to family lunch because we stayed longer that we'd expected to at the Playeum and while regaling what JED did there, a question that surfaced was "So what did Jordan do since it was all Lego and cars?" My instinctive retort that needed to be suppressed was "Who says girls can't play with cars (and Lego)?".

Because that was precisely what Jordan did for most part of it; play with the cars and later on with Lego and marbles. I had expected her to be at the Workshop table where there was a buffet of recyclable materials, fabrics, glue, markers etc. And that in itself was a terrible assumption on my part. She didn't even venture there because she was busy trying to race cars down another set of tracks; in this space, you could adapt the tracks as well as create the vehicles. She twisted, propped up, laid flat, looped and curled the track, watched how her car responded to it and adjusted it accordingly. We have a million pictures of her building a mini roller coaster for her car without it going off the rails and none of the Workshop area, unfortunately.

She can't look!
An interesting observation was that despite the number of times their cars crashed, broke into a million pieces, the kids just went back the drawing board and tried again, always adjusting, always swoping out parts and using different things to see if it worked better.

Jordan and Evan also tried their hands at building their own marble runs while taking a break from the ramps and cars. Even with this, they used ribbons, straightened and twisted paper clips to 'tie' the 'tracks'. Tracks here being old tubes of cardboard or plastic pipes or tubing. Evan got a bit frustrated when his creations wouldn't hold but there was a gleam of satisfaction every time he dropped a marble in and it came out at the bottom.

So they ended up with a morning of play which wasn't dictated by anyone. It was just theirs. When asked which section they liked the most, they were unanimous in their vagueness. They all liked 'building the stuff', which was really all they did.

There were other areas as well though JED didn't spend a lot of time there. It wasn't as if they weren't as fun. In fact, the Dark Room was one of my favourite areas  because I love shadows and making pictures or shadows. There was also the Workshop space I mentioned earlier where we could make whatever it is we wanted with the available tools. Packrat spent much of his time building cars to try and outdo the boys. I don't know if he succeeded though.

At the end of the day, one thing Ken Robinson had said resounded "if you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original" and it had truly been a morning of their coming up with their own original creations and where there was no right or wrong way to do it. Any place that does that is good for anyone's soul.

Details of how to get to Playeum and other nitty gritty but important pieces information. 

Blk 47 Malan Road
Gillman Barracks #01-21/23

It's near the Hort Park and it quite far into the barracks so be prepared to trek and clock steps or drive.

Mon to Fri from 7:00am to 5:00pm
First Hour Free Parking
$0.50 per 30 min for the Second hour
$3.00 per hour for the Third hour onwards or part thereof

Saturdays from 7:00am to 11:00am
Free Parking from 11:00am to 7:00pm
$0.50 per 30 min

Mon to Fri from 5:00pm to 7:00am (next day)
Saturdays from 7:00pm to 7:00am (next day)
$0.50 per 30min (capped at $2.00)
Parking is free on Sundays so that was great. 

Child (1-12): $20 (It's a non-profit organisation but they have to keep putting out resources and pay for utilities!)
Accompanying adult: You play for free.
Not open on Mondays and Christmas meaning Haze days are a great time to visit them.

We are most thankful to Playeum for the the time and space to create, tinker and make without instruction manuals!


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