The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 17, 2013

Imagination Playground presents new opportunities for children

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — A new type of playground now available in Enid helps children exercise both their bodies and their creativity.

Imagination Playground is a mobile block-based play system that transforms children’s minds and bodies through a creative system of play.

Lisa Simmons, Garfield County regional coordinator of Sooner Success Coalition, an education-based group at the University of Oklahoma, said the playground contains 100 large molded blocks. The blocks are light enough to be lifted by a 2-year-old, and can be placed either indoors or outdoors.

“You turn the kids loose. They can build through interacting with other kids,” Simmons said.

The playground is for ages 2-12. Simmons said the playground helps children use creative energy and build people skills.

“It builds the people skills we all want our children to have when they grow up,” Simmons said.

Sooner Success Coalition received donations to purchase the playground from local and area groups, and wants to make it available to the community. It spent December through February appealing to other child agencies and raised $6,000, which purchased one set of blocks and paid shipping costs.

Christ United Methodist Church, 2418 W. Randolph, donated space to store the blocks and will make them available to anyone in the community who wants to use them.

The 100-piece set will accommodate 25 kids at one time. It comes in two large carts. When finished, the blocks can be replaced in the carts and returned to the storage area.

The Garfield County Sooner Success Coalition has two roles: to help families with special-needs or at-risk children to connect with others, and to be a resource in the community for people who have children with social-services needs.

Local providers will assist those at-risk children and identify needs in the community. Simmons said it sometimes is difficult to develop interacting skills in traditional school programming, but at-risk kids especially need those skills.

“One problem now is that kids have no empathy toward each other. It’s hard to teach character like that in a school setting. Teachers don’t have the time,” Simmons said. She is trying to share the information with professionals in the community and help provide resources about the training, or any new services.

“We try to keep professionals up-to-the-minute on what’s available to help families they are working with,” Simmons said.

Many of the kids Simmons works with are low-income, but some are not. Some are from regular families who never have had to access services for disabilities. Sooner Success Coalition is a one-stop shop, she said.

Simmons first heard of the playground months ago, and it caught her eye. There are videos and stories of all types of people talking about the playground in their community, she said. The playground also is inexpensive compared to built-in playgrounds. It makes play new and different every time it is used by challenging the child’s creativity.

“Every time they play, they build a castle, a rocket ship, dinosaurs, a house, whatever their imagination,” she said.

Some pieces allow for adding water for water play. Whatever kids can think of and create from their imagination, they can do with the Imagination Playground, she said.

“Kids all have a terrific imagination,” Simmons said.

She suggested parents have chairs with them so they can sit and watch their children playing on the playground.