The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 20, 2013

Play Day inspires fun and learning

Rasmussen Woods hosts fifth annual event

By Amanda Dyslin
The Mankato Free Press

---- — For the fifth annual Play Day at Rasmussen Woods, the ante certainly had been upped by Minnesota State University students.

The challenge every summer is for professor Heather Von Bank’s family and consumer science students to create games for young children that bring out their creativity. And fun, of course, is the No. 1 priority.

One of the stations eliciting the most giggles Friday morning also happened to be the simplest activity: Box Play. A student tapped on the top of a closed, brown, six-sided box — about the size of a microwave — and out popped the head of a 2-year-old in full giggle mode.

The idea? Toddlers often find more fun with the box a toy came in than the toy itself. Plus a box can be so many things — a car, a spaceship, a house or a cave.

Across the way seniors Emily Schneider and Mariah Smith had designed a game called Finding Nemo that required a bit more from participants.

They had a kiddie-size swimming pool filled with “fish,” or at least pictures of fish that were face down and had paperclips taped to the back. Kids had to choose a card with a fish on it, and then use a fishing pole (a long ruler, string and a magnet) to magnetically pick up cards in the swimming pool until they found the fish that matched the one on their card.

The idea? To create a game using items that families would already have at home, Schneider said, and to inspire them to get creative with everyday household things.

Play Day wasn’t just about what the little kids got out of it, though. Schneider and Smith said doing hands-on activities with children teaches them how to engage with youngsters in a way they couldn’t learn in the classroom.

“It’s totally different than in the classroom,” Schneider said. “(You learn) how to explain the game differently to different children. And also just learning patience and letting the child do it themselves.”

Kelly Stadtherr brought her 1-year-old son Trenton to Play Day, partly because she knows Schneider, but also because it’s a fun activity for her son. The two blew bubbles, painted on the sidewalk and played Finding Nemo.

Stadtherr said she liked that the activities all seemed designed to teach the children something while they were having fun.

“It’s mainly learning based, so that’s great,” she said.