Play Day encourages learning without structure at Spring Lake Park

·2 min read

Jun. 10—While it might look a recycling pile to most people, a simple stack of cardboard boxes signaled infinite possibilities to children at the Play Day event Friday.

The boxes station proved one of the most popular, where children were running around with the boxes on their heads, arm and eye holes cut out to "look silly," as 11-year-old Charlie Van Bank put it frankly.

The event was at Spring Lake Park in North Mankato for the first time, with the goal of providing the opportunity to create and play without rules.

Minnesota State University professor Heather Von Bank organized the event, assisted by students taking her class, "The Benefits of Play in Child Development." The annual event typically takes place at Rasmussen Woods but was moved to North Mankato with the support of the Taylor Library.

The library provided giant LEGO blocks, which several children were inspired to repeatedly stack into as tall of a tower as they could. Others engaged in pool noodle fights or constructed friendship rings out of pipe cleaners.

Von Bank said she is passionate about promoting "unstructured play," which she worries children receive too little time for at school or day care. She said children need to have the opportunity to choose how they play as both a break from constant learning and for hands-on, creative practice of what they have learned.

Parent Miranda Tarjeson said the event provided a great opportunity for children to socialize freely, which the pandemic has made difficult.

"This is something that they can do to hang out with other kids and have activities that are not necessarily too strict," Tarjeson said. "This summer it feels like they can get out among other kids again."

The experience also proved rewarding for the MSU students, whose job it was to observe the children's interactions with the available activities.

"It's fun to see kids do what they want with the materials," junior Julia Proty said. "They're the ones leading the play."