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Semele's Riches: The Building Zone

Semele's Riches

Adventures in handmade childhood.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Building Zone

Friendly Murals are located at child-level
We took a field trip to the National Building Museum with some of Ian's buds. Obviously the main attraction was how much fun Ian had and how much he learned while doing it.  If you are a resident or visitor to our fine city, you should absolutely take your family to the Building Museum.  If the line for the Building Zone is long, borrow one of the Family Tool Kits and wait it out- it's worth it!  Family Tool Kits are available for a mere $5 checkout fee to non-members.  If your kid has given up naps like mine, consider timing your visit to the Building Zone around noon, when the line usually clears.

We didn't have time to explore the entire museum, but the parts we did see suggest that hands on activities are available everywhere you go.  The miniature building bricks in the Cityscapes exhibit were a nice surprise, and our gang of two and three year olds enjoyed their visit to this gallery.

Checkerboards define areas of play
Okay, so now that the totally unsolicited ad for the National Building Museum is over, let me tell you why I loved our visit.  Other than how much fun my kid had and how beautiful the building is, of course.  I obviously spend a lot of time thinking about ideal play environments, being as how I spend a great deal of time with my son.  I know there are those who will tell you that they think being a SAHM is fatal to the intellect, but I find that I just direct my creativity and problem solving into other areas.

I know it's ridiculous to research and calculate how much profit Mrs. O'Brien is making on her cookies until you think about what Ian might be learning from it.  Okay, yes, first of all he's figured out that Mommy is prone to bizarre enthusiasms that come and live in her head for a while and won't go away until you indulge them, but also he sees that it's okay to indulge your curiosity even if it seems a little silly.  And that you might find out something interesting as a result. But I digress.  Other than questioning the motives of fictional old ladies and trying to memorize every smile, giggle, and milestone, my brain does find ways to occupy itself.  As I said, with enthusiasms that come and live there.  Which brings us to play environments.  (Yes, I know we're getting here the long way around.)
Sturdy benches are seats or tables

When you visit the Building Zone, you'll notice first that the color is an incredibly friendly sky blue.  Attractive, friendly reminders are painted on the walls, like "Please Tidy Up."  And there are these beautiful murals that are simple in design but filled with vibrant, complex color.  And they are executed in a scale and location that puts them at the kids' eye level.  The abundance of natural light adds to the feeling of serenity.  High ceilings help keep the noise level down.  The max occupancy is 40 people, which is a lot for a single room, but it feels very spacious.

The designers took advantage of the practical, environmentally friendly carpet tile often used in public spaces to create a feeling of separate play spaces.  They added a couple of checkerboard areas, and, just peeping out under the playhouse, a square of grass-green carpet.  If you observe how the kids play in the room, you'll notice that they seem to follow these nearly subliminal indicators.  The "Block Stop" Legos, for instance, don't seem to wander around the room, but stay together.

Closing the Window
Next, notice that although there are a few large, fabulous items, the space is also filled with the same kinds of toys all kids have at home.  There's a book corner, a dollhouse, some puzzles, dress-up clothes, blocks, and toy trucks.    But the furnishings set this play area apart.  The room is almost exclusively furnished with benches that are the perfect height either for adults to sit on, or for small children to use as a play surface.  They are built of plywood and can be rearranged to suit the pattern of play.

I completely plan to apply some of my observations to the play areas available in my home.  Whether you plan to analyze the play dynamics or just want to watch the grin on your kid's face when he opens and closes the windows on the play house, be sure to put this one on your "to do" list!

Read more about our visit on the Building Blocks Blog.

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