Water Slides

As August comes to an end, what better time to reflect on one of summer's all-time favorite activities? Water slides! This summer, children created a variety of water slides in the PlayCorps parks. Here are a few examples:

At GENERAL ST PARK, the hills are perfect for slides - grassy with just-right slopes going down into the park itself. The children picked up on this right away and started using cardboard boxes as "sleds."  The team picked up on these play cues, and helped the kids build slides out of tarps and old banners. Once they added the water, they created an instant play sensation which was brought out on hot days for the rest of the summer.

At WALLACE ST PARK, the team and kids created water slides on tarps spread over the ground or even on the playground slides themselves. Play Leader Tina, however, didn't anticipate the kids trying to climb up the wet slides from he bottom. Tina was nervous at first that they would slip and get hurt, or that someone would slide down on top of them. But she respected the kids' choices and let them do it. When she took a step back, she watched as an amazing 3-year-old climbed all the way up the slide and pulled herself to the top. In that moment, Tina realized that if kids don't take risks, their comfort levels continue to shrink and they become adults that are mentally trapped in tiny bubbles. When they do take risks, push themselves and play freely, they grow into adults who are well adjusted and know how to explore their own boundaries, limits, and senses of fun.

One Thursday afternoon at BILLY TAYLOR PARK, kids took the water park to an entirely new level. It was a hot day, so an older boy— who was nicknamed “Peter Pan”recruited a following of “lost boys” to create a giant water slide. Earlier in the summer, the kids had discovered that wringing out the sponges over the slide made for a very fast and exciting ride. That day, Peter Pan decided to drag the kiddie pool to the bottom of the slide to create a splash-zone at the end. With his lost boys in tow, they filled the pool using the noodles, dragged it across to the playground, dunked themselves in the pool, then raced to the top to slide down as fast as they could. The PlayCorps team watched anxiously from a distance as the children attempted to land in the pool. Sometimes they slid too fast and would overshoot the pool. But still the team didn't intervene and allowed the children to play. The team paid close attention, noticing that when children did fall, they continued to laugh. The children also looked out for each other, checking on everyone after they took their turn, Soon the experimentation yielded a super fun and successful water slide rivaling any that one could imagine in NeverLand.

PlayCorps Dresses Up

Each PlayCorps team has a variety of fabrics and props on hand for various dress-up games. Here are some glimpses into the imaginary dress-up play that goes on in PlayCorps parks:

One Wednesday morning at BILLY TAYLOR PARK, a very special 6-year-old from Mt. Hope Learning Center got married. Dressed in a strapless gown with a flowing train and clutching a bouquet of pipe cleaner flowers, she scaled the playground’s rock walls, jumped from platforms and ran circles around the rest of us. Making dresses out of fabric scraps and binder clips has been a trend at this park, but the pretend wedding exceeded all expectations. Despite missing a groom, our bride was not alone. She was accompanied by a bridesmaid wearing a dress of white and blue fastened at the waist with yet another pipe cleaner flower. Both girls posed for a photo shoot as we chased after them, fixing their dresses as needed. Even with some cold feet right before the ceremony, it was a beautiful event, complete with the bride zip-lining away to her honeymoon.  

At BUCKLIN PARK one day, one child not only became Rapunzel by creating a cascade of pink hair for herself out of some fabric, but she also made herself a loyal unicorn out of some cardboard with a comb as the horn. She rode her unicorn throughout the park and even adorned herself with some pipe cleaner jewelry.

Casey and the Playmobile team have an especially impressive array of costumes and props on hand. Here's a story about the Playmobile, and some incredible dress-up play in DONIGIAN PARK:

"Let's have a fashion show," said an 8 year old girl to a group of kids while digging through a bin of costumes. Picking up on the 8-year-old's play cue, Play Leader Casey immediately said, "I think you need a stage. How about some cardboard?" As Casey ran to the Playmobile to grab some cardboard, Providence Children's Museum AmeriCorps members Catelyn and Paris (who accompanied Casey and the Playmobile this summer) set up a multi-colored parachute on the grass for the audience to sit on. 

"I know, let's make it a talent show" said one girl wearing a pink and black tutu, holding a ribbon wand, and two other girls picked up ribbon wands, too. Casey responded, "Great idea! Do you have stage names you want me to introduce you as?" "Chloe," " Ariel," and "Wonder Woman," they replied. "Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, now introducing the amazing Chloe, Ariel and Wonder Woman," proclaimed Casey in a theatrical voice. The three girls made shapes in the sky with rainbow ribbons and smiles on their faces, and the audience cheered. 

Next, a boy wearing an oversized shirt with balloons printed on it and oversized striped pants took the stage and told jokes. "What begins with a b, ends with a t, and looks like two mountains?" "A butt!" he exclaimed, and the kids roared with laughter. 

Next up, a boy asked to be introduced as the Daredevil Motorcyclist. He rode his bike down a small hill and then when he was on level ground, he stood on the pedals and lifted one foot. The audience cheered. One of the girls decided to become the MC and introduced the acts. Another boy put on multi-colored shorts, a giant bowtie and a striped hat and asked to be introduced as "Clown Swag." Then another boy grabbed all of the hula hoops and took the stage, trying to hoop with 10 hoops around his waist. 

Another boy grabbed a foam noodle and spun it around like a baton. The girls decided to make a limbo stick by holding a ribbon tight, and kids immediately began bending backward beneath it. One of the boys decided to anounce the acts next, and before long there were kids plate spinning, flag spinning, juggling, and more. For the grand finale, a boy put himself in a giant blue sparkling bag made of stretchy fabric. Another boy introduced him and he lay immobile on the ground. Then the announcer put woodchips on top and the bag, and the boy magically came to life!

Casey and the Playmobile team routinely found that the children at Donigian, and all the parks they visited, are endlessly inventive when given the space and materials to play. A simple idea from a child ... "let's have a fashion show" ... evolved into a full-scale, collaborative, and imaginative talent-show effort.

PlayCorps Climbs ...

Each PlayCorps team is trained to let kids assess their own risks. That essentially means that we let children do activities that might be deemed somewhat "unsafe" in a school environment because they're fun, and because children are often better at taking care of themselves than we give them credit for.

Because of this philosophy, the kids at our parks end up climbing ... on fences and trees as well as traditional play structures. Often as high as they can go. 

At HARRIET & SAYLES PARK, a boy we'll call "D" expressed interest in climbing a tree. The team was right there to support him. The adults around were very nervous and were questioning our boundaries, but the team reassured them that D could climb on his own and assess his own risks. When D needed it (not often), PlayCorps staff offered suggestions about where to put his foot or where to climb next. The parents stood aside and watched nervously as D climbed quite high in the tree. All the hard work paid off because D succeeded in helping to run some fabric around a high branch and secure a makeshift swing. Even the adults that had been most nervous were amazed and started to help the kids attach the a "seat" to the cloth to improve the swing. All of the Playcorps participants couldn't wait to take a turn!


At GENERAL ST PARK, kids found similar uses for the giant mulberry tree. The team there had been encouraging any interested kids to climb the lower, more horizontal branches. Some would only go up a few feet while others, as they felt confident, went all the way to the tip of the large branches. The kids squealed in delight when the staff stood below them and shook the branches or tried to grab their feet. The kids at General Street also made a swing that they hung from one of the branches with the help of a particularly nimble climber. Most kids requested that an adult push them as hard as they could on the swing. Even if they were scared, they, like all children, were adept at pushing themselves, assessing what is good play for them, and having fun – even in settings that might be deemed "unsafe" in a traditional school environment.

One sunny afternoon when the Playmobile was visiting BUCKLIN PARK, one of the children thought it would be fun to climb the tall fence behind home plate of the baseball field. Other kids saw how high he was climbing and decided to join in. The adults at the park became very nervous and started to yell at the kids to come down. Playmobile Play Leader Casey assured the adults that she was watching closely and that the kids were engaging in positive-risk taking. "It's sort of like rock-climbing," she said. "They are engaging their motor skills, motor planning, problem solving, and building muscles while maintaining balance." An adult replied, "it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt." Though it is true that when kids engage in risk-taking there is potential for injury, there was a great deal of adult supervision and arms extended to catch their fall. Casey and Bucklin's Play Leader Monique were not worried and they encouraged the children to continue climbing. They knew not to set limits about how high the kids could climb because the kids would know instinctively how high they were comfortable going. Although it was making the adults nervous, the kids were smart climbers, had smiles on their faces and felt a sense of accomplishment when they came down, knowing they had completed a challenging task.

How PlayCorps Changed My Parenting

Janette Perez is the Play Leader at Harriet & Sayles Park this summer. She's also a mother. Through her job training for PlayCorps and her work in childhood play this summer, she has found new approaches to her own parenting style. Here's her story about her work with PlayCorps and her daughter Jaz:

"Jaz, stop touching the sand. You'll get dirty!" 
"Don't touch that bike, you'll get germs!" 
"Eww Jonathan, are we really taking her to the park? It's so gross and dirty."

This was a typical day for Jaz: me complaining about every little thing she would do, especially when it came to her playing outside . . . or being a kid! I was just so anxious about her getting dirty because I cared about how people viewed me as a mother. I assumed people would think I didn't take care of my daughter if she got dirty at the park. I was also strict with Jaz's play because I didn't want her to catch germs from other kids or the ground. I was afraid it would affect her asthma. I thought I was taking good care of Jaz by being strict and restricting her play. But instead, I was hindering her creativity and stopping her from playing naturally and enjoying her childhood. I had this realization during training to be a Play Leader with Providence PlayCorps.

One homework assignment during job training changed my entire parenting method for the better. Janice O'Donnell, PlayCorps' director, thought it would be great for us to read "The Overprotected Kid," an article written by Hanna Rosin in The Atlantic. I expected the article to help me as a play-worker; never did I think it would transform me as a parent! 

I was shocked to find that I was exactly like the parents Rosin described in the article: parents who are so strict with their kids that they don't let them really be kids! Was I really doing this to Jaz? By the end of the article, I was determined to let my daughter play more freely and let her imagination run wild. 

After making adjustments to my parenting style based on the article, and based on my work with PlayCorps, Jaz is now able to jump in the sand and do sand angels if she likes! She comes to the park now and plays with other kids. Sometimes she plays in the dirt. I even let her climb the gate, which I never would have allowed before. She swung on a hand-made swing crafted by PlayCorps participants. These examples may seem like nothing major, but I was very overprotective before I started with PlayCorps and didn't notice how I was inhibiting Jaz's play. Thanks to PlayCorps, I have realized how to loosen up my restrictions and to let Jaz play freely. Independence in a child's play is key to their development. I now know I need to let Jaz assess her own risks. I need to trust her – to know that she knows best how to play. Even if that means getting a little dirty.

Old Play Structures? New Ideas.

PlayCorps sites include parks with well known playground equipment, such as jungle gyms, slides and monkey bars. Kids enjoy the playgrounds, but there's also a sense of "been-there-done-that" a lot of the time.

PlayCorps teams often encourage kids to think outside the box about what can be done on and around the play equipment. Here are a few examples:

At GENERAL ST PARK, play leader Emily began to wrap some rope around the exterior of one of the climbing structures. The kids quickly intervened, and they interwove the rope among the structure’s interior until it took shape as a giant spider web that the kids could play in. The children took this construction project very seriously (as any spider would), making sure all knots were tight and all strings evenly dispersed.

One day at BILLY TAYLOR PARK, the PlayCorps team was told by some kids that they had to climb up the slides, and that their lives depended on it! Naturally, they climbed up, and it turned out they had entered a flying castle. The team, partnering with the kids,  slowly built the castle from the inside out, connecting it to a nearby existing rope play structure. 

As the play evolved, a frisbee became a secret treasure that could not touch the ground. One boy added a “BatmanMobile Cave Hallway” to the castle while other kids, supported by the PlayCorps team, turned the treasure frisbee into a paint palate and began to "paint" themselves and the castle with some paint brushes. Eventually play leader Willa became a fairy, and intern Maddie was turned into a troll, a cat, a clown, and a witch while PlayCorps intern Ami held her own as a green bird. After some serious play, the kids went and grabbed their lunches and everybody ate together inside the flying castle.'

With the help of the PlayCorps team, kids at CAMDEN AVE PARK turned a large section of their playground into an elaborate fortress with multiple hallways and rooms using boxes and fabric. Many games and stories developed, with various kids becoming prisoners, ship captains, kings, and spies at different times. Kids even took up some paint, pencils and crayons, and they decorated the boxes – inside and out.

At WALLACE ST PARK, instead of blowing bubbles, the kids insisted on washing the PlayCorps team’s materials storage pod (in order to create a clean canvas for chalk-painting later in the day). After they were done washing the pod, they asked play leader Tina if they could wash her car. Where many people working with children would draw the line, PlayCorps staff usually deliver the line, “yes.” Tina drove her car around, and the kids delightedly suds-ed it until it was time for lunch. 

What creative things have you seen children do with existing playground equipment or other features in the parks? Leave us a comment below! 

The Cardboard Worlds of Providence PlayCorps

Each PlayCorps team is equipped with, among other things, a collection of card board boxes: some large, some small. Some beat up, some brand new. Most people don't look twice at a cardboard box. At PlayCorps, however, we know the adage is true: kids often play more with the box the toy came in than the toy itself.

PlayCorps teams routinely find that as long as kids have some boxes and some tape, and maybe some drawing implements, entire worlds and games can evolve. Here are a few of many highlights from the parks:

At HARRIET & SAYLES park one day, kids had the idea to tape two boxes together. Before long, a group of kids had crafted an entire cardboard city, equipped with an "ice cream shop" that was active throughout the rest of the day.

Not all cardboard play is, or should be, communal. Oftentimes, children recede into worlds of their own to play. And each PlayCorps team is trained to foster individual imaginative play as well as group play. Near the cardboard city at Harriet & Sayles Park, one girl sat down decidedly inside a cardboard box. She didn’t get out. Instead, that box became her moving house. She would pick it up and walk with it still around her, or she would set it down and it would become a fixed dwelling. It became a versatile, safe space where she could explore her own fun.

At PASTORE PARK, kids stumbled upon an incredible game all on their own — a kind of golf without clubs, and with cardboard boxes as the holes. Kids placed a perforated square slab of cardboard on top of a giant cardboard box, and they then attempted to toss mini colored balls into the holes on the square and into the box below. They were enthralled with the game and played it right up until clean-up time. It had never occurred to the team to combine those materials into such a game, and the episode revealed kids’ capacity to not only create worlds out of boxes and objects, but also brand new competitive games with their own specific rules and goals.

At CAMDEN AVE PARK, PlayCorps program manager Jillian Finkle dropped off an enormous cardboard box she was given by a local furniture store. Before long, with the help of the PlayCorps team, some kids had not only turned it into the box into a huge hallway connected to a series of other box rooms, but they also started painting murals on the inside and outside of the box to which other children could contribute. 

These are just a few examples of everything that kids are doing with cardboard boxes in the parks every day. And it doesn't just have to happen in the park! Looking for something fun and cheap to do with your kids at home? Just find some big boxes, and let them loose!

PlayCorps in Action!

Here is a sampling of the wonderfully creative and playful activities that have taken place at PlayCorps parks thus far this summer, and shared on Facebook:

Rainy day chalk and water play at General Street Park

Building cardboard forts at Harriet & Sayles Park

A creative homemade water slide at General Street Park!

Painting at Wallace Street Park

There have also been so many great examples of using fabric and other loose parts to reinvent existing playground equipment:

Fabric on the climbing structure at Billy Taylor Park

Playground spider web at General Street Park

Foam noodles add to the fun at Billy Taylor water park

Cardboard tunnels at Father Lennon/Camden Ave Park

Stay tuned (and follow us on Facebook) for more photos and stories of kids at play!