Getting kids outdoors and away from their screens

Rendering of an inflatable playground being designed by WSU students.
Rendering of an inflatable playground being designed by WSU students.

With children spending alarmingly less time outdoors, Mona Ghandi and her architectural design students might have found an innovative way to begin changing that.

Ghandi, an assistant professor at Washington State University’s School of Design and Construction is working to develop a new inflatable playground at WSU’s Children’s Center with her design studio class. The structure, Pneu World, will open on April 24 at 2 p.m., replacing the outdated playground that existed prior and encouraging children to play outside.

The new playground will be made out of three types of inflatable structures: Tunnels, donuts, and domes. Each structure is suitable for all ages and can be detached from one another to be configured in an infinite amount of possibilities, drawing interest for every child at the Children’s Center.

“We wanted kids to have interaction with the structure, have a role in shaping their environments,  and get them outside rather than in front of a screen,” Ghandi said.

WSU students working on parts for the inflatable playground.
WSU students creating individual parts for the inflatable playground.

The disparity in time that children spend outside versus inside continues to rise at alarming levels. The U.S. National Library of Medicine has reported that American children spend about seven hours a day looking at a screen as more and more kids in the United States are developing Nature Deficit Disorder.

The playground will come with balloons that children can rearrange to their hearts’ desires and an inflatable garden is to be implemented after the playground opens.

This student-led project is a great opportunity for students in the class, as they get to work with a real client and actually see their ideas come to life.

“Having the experience to take an idea in your head, actually build it and work for a client is extremely valuable,” said Martin Trejo, a third-year design student in Ghandi’s class.

For many students like Trejo, this is the first full-scale design experience they’ve had and the first opportunity for them to respond to unforeseen challenges.

“They learn from doing and making,” Ghandi said. “When you design in a computer, everything looks perfect. This design-build studio is a chance to see how things differs from the computer to the real process.”

Before the construction phase, the students came together to brainstorm and collaborate different ideas for the project, getting a balance of unique perspectives from each student.

The payoff for their work aside from the opening of the playground is to showcase their designs and the final built project in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Student Design Awards in Spokane on Thursday, April 25th.

The project started when the Children’s Center reached out to Ghandi last summer to ask if a playground could be designed from her class. The students visited the Children’s Center and asked the kids to draw what they imagined an inflatable playground would look like. They then applied the concepts the kids gave them to their own designs.

“This is a great example of two WSU institutions working together and helping each other,” Ghandi said.

Ghandi credited the involvement of the entire class with the project’s success, including Ashley Beard, Omar Cardoza, Caryl Hernandez, Alexis Hope, Ally Hyder, Prem Jongdeenarn, Jenn Kim, Chad Lang, Shanle Lin, Madison Roberts, Jamie Stauffer, Trejo, Shengyu Wu, Luming Xiao and Ruiming Zeng,

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