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Published: Wednesday, 11/2/2005

Monroe County: Harmony rings out in abundance on new playground

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - If there's one thing that time on the Monroe County Intermediate School District's new playground proves, it is that you only need to be a kid to have fun banging on a drum.

The ISD last week unveiled the first phase of its new Music Adventure Playground Project, a groundbreaking place where kids of all ages and abilities can play together, if not always in tune.

"Musical aptitude is not dependent on physical or mental abilities," explained Angie Snell, the ISD's music therapist for the last two decades and the driving force behind the district's new experimental playground. "There is a natural human need for making nice sounds."

The ISD initially designed and installed five instrumental play stations, including drums, chimes, and a xylophone, with initial designs calling for up to 23 other instruments. In addi-tion, an asphalt textured path winds through the separate playstations, allowing access for the first time to those in wheelchairs.

The play station instruments are tuned and pitched to be "success oriented, so that when they play, they'll hear good sounds no matter what," Mrs. Snell said, adding that she and others are writing music that children can play on the instruments.

The ISD's whole MAP project is "stolen," Mrs. Snell said, from the work of Petra Kern, now an assistant professor of Music Therapy at the University of Windsor, who created a similar playground project in North Carolina. Ms. Kern has been consulting with the ISD on the project for several years, and drove down from Windsor to attend the grand opening last week.

Mrs. Snell, who has worked at the ISD for nearly 20 years, said the idea for the MAP came to her several years ago, but the cost of such an undertaking seemed out of reach. That took a turn about four years ago, when Mrs. Snell's husband, Tom, helped her put together a grant request to his employer, Henkel Corp., a European-based manufacturer of consumer and industrial products.

"He suggested that I try, because they have a [charitable] program called 'Make an Impact on Tomorrow' where they focus specifically on young people," Mrs. Snell explained. After throwing together a request and getting approval from ISD Superintendent Don Spencer, the company awarded the ISD a grant for over $11,500 toward the project's initial $30,000 cost.

Mrs. Snell said she and others at the ISD have been working on what she calls the "training component" of the musical playground equipment, which she says may be the most important part of such a project.

"What the research has shown is that if you just put the equipment in and don't educate people how to use it, they won't use it. But if you can train parents and others how to share these instruments and then slowly back away, their children will explore them and feel comfortable sharing them with others," Mrs. Snell said.

The MAP project at the ISD is experimental in the sense that it is one of just a handful of music-therapy inspired playgrounds in the United States.

Mrs. Snell said she would like to use the facility to research the ways children of all ability levels interact on the MAP, then translate the information so that such instruments can be incorporated into elementary school and municipal playgrounds in the future.

"That's the dream," she said coyly.



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