Play Day encourages unstructured learning at Spring Lake Park

June 10—While it might look like a recycling pile to most people, a simple pile of cardboard boxes signaled endless possibilities for kids during Friday’s Play Day event.

The box station proved to be one of the most popular, where kids ran around with the boxes on their heads, arm holes and eyes cut out to “look silly”, as Frankly put it. Charlie Van Bank, 11 years old.

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

Heather Von Bank, a professor at Minnesota State University, organized the event, assisted by students taking her course, “The Benefits of Play in Child Development.” The annual event is usually held in Rasmussen Woods, but has been moved to North Mankato with support from Taylor Library.

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

Von Bank said she is passionate about promoting “unstructured play”, for which she fears children are getting too little time in school or daycare. She said children need to be given the opportunity to choose how they play, both to break away from constant learning and to creatively and practically practice what they have learned.

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

“It’s something they can do to hang out with other kids and have activities that aren’t necessarily too strict,” Tarjeson said. “This summer, it feels like they can hang out with other kids again.”

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

“It’s fun to watch the kids do whatever they want with the material,” said junior Julia Proty. “They are the ones who run the game.”