Ever since 1999, Lower School music teacher Sara Zur had been dreaming of creating a musical play space for kids that would open their imaginations and foster a love of music. During travels in England and Israel, Zur had witnessed sound installations and melodic play areas, including a junkyard in Israel that transformed everyday waste objects into a learning opportunities for children.
“There was something about playing with everyday objects that seemed to make kids be extra musical,” Zur says. “There is a collaborative element, and a stretching of the imagination that can’t be duplicated with regular instruments.”
Made from recycled materials, an EcoSonic playground is essentially a large, unique, music-making structure intended to promote collaborative play. Building one includes a curriculum component for elementary schools to teach students STEM skills through lessons in acoustics, physics, engineering, and design as they work with educators to build the structures themselves.
Zur, who holds a doctorate in musical play, quickly contacted her colleague Elissa Johnson-Green, a music professor at Umass Lowell, who heads up an EcoSonic team comprised of professors and graduate students. Over the course of the year, the EcoSonic team and Zur met regularly with the kindergartners to design and implement the play space. This didn’t just involve the nuts and bolts of putting the playground together.
The students studied sound vibrations in Carol Fine’s science class, and tested different materials with Lower School technology integration and makerspace mentor Mickey Hardt. They drew up designs in their homeroom, and, of course, they studied music proper with Zur.
Finally, this spring, the project came together when the musical playground was unveiled during the last week of school. PVC pipes, an old vacuum cleaner hose, a bike tire, and countless other everyday objects had been pulled together to create BB&N’s EcoSonic playground.
“There is this drumming thing, and there is a tube that you can listen to like a headphone, and you can hear everything, except the sound is smaller,” explains kindergartener Ryan McCullough excitedly. “But designing it was even more fun than playing it, because when you are designing it, you get to play with more people.”
The final result has been an EcoSonic playground that sounds at turns beautiful, cacophonous, and vibrant—but above all else, fun!