Play structures created by design students thrill toddlers at daycare

Seyeon Lee

When it’s playtime for children at the St. Thomas Aquinas Child Development Center, they’ll be able to frolic on four new play structures designed and built by students from the Texas A&M College of Architecture.

Created by four groups of 14 second-year environmental design students led by Seyeon Lee, an architecture instructor and Ph.D. architecture student, the new structures resemble elements of a marketplace, a spaceship interior, a beehive and other spaces for kids to play and exercise their imaginations.

On Nov. 4, 2015, students gathered at the center to make brief presentations on their projects. Afterward, the children ran from structure to structure, screaming and smiling with delight, trying out the space ship’s steering wheel, running up and down a ramp resembling piano keys, and playing with numbered blocks.

“We so grateful to have the structures,” said Pamela Harris, an administrative assistant at the school. “They are so popular, our staff has to make sure the kids rotate through them so all the children can enjoy them. I wish we had more of them.”

Lee asked students to design structures that would be three feet wide, three feet long, and six feet high when closed and locked. They had to have wheels to be easily moved, suitable for indoor and outdoor use and easy to maintain and clean.

As part of their design research, Lee’s students observed the daycare children, noting their physical and cognitive characteristics.

Students built their designs with new and recycled materials on budgets not exceeding $100 each using the equipment at the college’s Automated Fabrication & Design Lab, know by students as the “Architecture Ranch.”

One structure, resembling a honeycomb, encourages children to play with blocks displaying numbers and letters attached to the structure’s walls. The designers, Tayler Dittrich, Andrew Mangum and Carl Norwood, designed the toy to improve children’s fine motor skills and letter recognition.

The honeycomb pattern, said the students in a structure design poster, provides a refuge from the sun but allows light and air to flow through the structure.

Another structure, “Brain Blast,” includes a space ship control center with cutouts and stars on the ceiling and walls to simulate a space environment.

Lee’s students also created play structures for the center in the spring 2015 semester.

posted December 8, 2015