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Playful Learning with SPARK!

April 26, 2016

Why teach the creative process? Last week, my amazing colleague Amy Copeland and I drove the Go van Gogh van (say that three times fast!) to the historic South Side on Lamar building to take part in the 2016 Creativity Confab hosted by SPARK!. We arrived excited to hear some of the city’s most creative minds participate in a panel discussion on the importance of creativity in a child’s education, and were greeted with an inviting maze of slides, “slinky” tubes, catwalks, and creative play stations, including a giant Lite-Brite and a recording studio. Needless to say, not even our inappropriate choice of shoes could keep us from joining in on the fun and exploring!

Inspired by the City Museum in St. Louis, SPARK! was founded in 2010 to teach the creative process and empower children through playful learning. Student visitors are invited to first fully immerse themselves in the space and loosen up by playing. Fred Peña of Booziotis and Company Architects, the space’s designer, says that his favorite part of the project is watching a cautious student finally work up the nerve to tackle the floor to ceiling slide, and then repeat the adventure again and again. After playing, the students move on to an art activity geared to teach the creative process and encourage collaborative problem solving.

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While the facility has only been open since June 2015, preliminary research reflects that students are more likely to describe themselves as creative and more likely to believe they’re capable of coming up with a valuable new idea after a visit to SPARK!. Significantly, about 57 percent of the children served by SPARK! come from low-income communities, reflecting the organization’s commitment to offering creative learning programs to underserved groups.

The panel’s consensus? Access to creative learning programs help children develop self-reliance, confidence, and resilience. They’re more like to perform better academically and in their future careers. As with sports, the arts teach children teamwork and help them develop confidence in their own abilities. Moreover, children learn not to fear failure and discover that problems often have more than one solution.

As a museum educator, my visit to SPARK! served as an inspiring reminder of how playful learning can help students make meaningful connections to the arts and tap into their own creativity. I look forward to my next visit, sans the wedge sandals.

tengo

Lindsay O’Connor
Manager of Docent and Teacher Programs

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