Non-profit Playground Ideas had a mission 12 years ago to build over 40 playgrounds for refugee children on the Thai – Myanmar Border and this birthed a movement which has now impacted 2.3 million children in over 143 countries.
From this heritage Playground Ideas created a new tool which has just won two Australian good design awards and is supporting teachers across Australia to run creative, STEM-based play programs for students in and out of the classroom.
In 2007, founder and chief executive officer, Marcus Veerman established Playground Ideas to provide schools and communities all over the world with the free tools and resources they need to build a DIY playground.
However, Veerman saw a gap in their offering.
“We help thousands of grassroots communities create customised play and learning spaces every year, but for various reasons that model doesn’t work for everyone,” Veerman says.
Playground Ideas wanted a way it could make a high impact change in children’s development quickly and in an affordable way.
With the help of a Belgian STEM toy designer, Emma Ribbens, the pair co-designed a product that is a highly stimulating, mobile play and learning space that encourages self-directed creative exploration.
And so, the Nüdel Kart was born.
The Nüdel Kart is a deconstructable, mobile play kart that explodes into a research-backed loose parts space that children can explore with billions of different combinations.
“On top of this we worked really hard with teachers to make it compact to store and simple to pack up by children so it really is a huge support in the learning process,” Veerman explains.
About the size of a large shopping trolley and designed for up to 30 children, three to 12-year-olds, the Nüdel Kart is designed to trust a child’s unstoppable urge to explore, experiment, and imagine.
In this environment the children naturally focus on creativity, leadership and the foundational STEM skills, including problem solving, innovation, invention, social skills and negotiation. “Information is now easily attainable but it’s these core skills which students need to practise daily to thrive in everyday life.” Veerman states.
“Unlike recycled “junk” loose parts, there is not a single piece in the kart that the child can identify as a known object, and therefore the child has to invent meaning on-the-fly which really sets their brains alight.”
Compared to most construction and STEM toys where there is an obvious order and way to do things, Veerman designed the kart with a combination of order and some deliberate chaos thrown in.
“There is a rigid mathematical pattern in the design so the parts fit together beautifully but not always in the ways a child might expect. The kart doesn’t tell kids how to put things together or to create anything;, it’s all up to their imagination and creativity to guide them,” Veerman says.
“Say you want to put two pieces together, but the holes only line up in certain places. This encourages the child to stop and consider what else they have around them to fulfil the goal they have set themselves, they may also need to negotiate with another child who has the parts they need or even merge their ideas which we see a lot.”
Nüdel Kart creates a rich environment for a child to dramatically build their skills in a self-directed way which builds their confidence and their own agency over learning.
“Agency is a skill teachers can’t teach because as soon as you start teaching it, it’s not agency anymore, that’s the paradoxical nature of encouraging independent learning. It has to be driven intrinsically by the child in a stimulating environment that they are attracted to,” Veerman highlights.
Self directed learning allows teachers to stand back and observe children learning naturally and to know exactly where that student is at.
“They can springboard from those observations into the curriculum using the child’s momentum instead of their own, which can be really exciting for a teacher,” Veerman explains.
Due to the kart being used for a whole classroom “all that learning is embedded in a deeply social context so they are practising crucial social skills at the same time, so you get this holistic, double benefit”.
In an education system like Australia’s, where the curriculum has become increasingly over-scheduled and the wellbeing of students is more important than ever, Playground Ideas strives to see children have more time to express themselves freely and choose the areas they want to explore every day at school.