Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.
An innovative portable playground is inspiring Otago's youngest minds to think scientifically about everyday things.
It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon and families and young children have gathered at the Otago Museum Reserve for some hands-on science exploring the concepts of sound, colour, textures, ramps and water.
This is the public launch of Kia Rapua, a travelling playground that helps young minds foster scientific thinking by giving them the time, space, and materials to exercise their curiosity.
Magdalen, mum to 3 year-old Sadie says, "Sadie loves the musical element most – she’s been playing on that for quite some time today. I think it's great to see this kind of thing for younger kids. My other daughter is eight, so it's too young for her, but it's exactly right for Sadie and we don’t get that very often."
Project leader Nathalie Wierdak, Otago Museum science engagement coordinator, explains that each of the different components in the playground have been developed by taking into account how young children learn.
“There are gaps in science education programmes for children under seven, so we designed this project to help change that,” Nathalie says. “From a very early age children naturally learn along the lines of the scientific method, by experimenting and testing ideas. The idea behind the playground is to guide and nurture that exploratory learning.”
One of the playground stations is made up of slides with different textures. A quick experiment by sliding or rolling balls down the slides has children already developing hypotheses (ideas about what might be causing something, which can then be tested).
"I liked [going on] the first slide more,” says Ellie, who is aged three. “The other one is too slow [because] it has grass on it. The grass is rough [which makes the slide slow]."
At the heart of the project was a collaboration between Otago Museum and local early childhood learning centres Little Citizens, Green Street, Wakari Kindergarten and Roslyn-Maori Hill Playcentre. Educators from these centres attended a workshop with Nathalie and others at Otago Museum to exchange ideas and knowledge.
The team explored questions such as ‘what does science at this early age involve?’, ‘how can science be incorporated into everyday activities like cooking and sports?’, and ‘how best can we engage children of this age?’. Their answers then guided how they developed the playground and the accompanying series of inquiry-based activities.
Since the launch, the playground has completed a tour of the four partner preschools, staying at each location for a month. Already, it has been used to explore science by over 630 young children, parents and educators.
The Kia Rapua playground’s latest public appearance is at the New Zealand International Science Festival in Dunedin, for both locals and visitors to have a go at some science play.
Those outside of Otago can also take part in Kia Rapua; its webpage has free activity sheets to download and explore at home – from making a tambourine to investigating textures.
The Kia Rapua – Science Playground project is run by the Otago Museum Science Engagement Team in collaboration with Little Citizens, Green Street, Wakari Kindergarten, Roslyn-Maori Hill Playcentre, with support from the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund.