By Lenroy James
Hordes of excited schoolchildren, accompanied by teachers, parents, and friends, converged on the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park last Thursday just before noon to participate in the official opening of the Science Playground, the Hall’s newest attraction.
The playground which covers a 30,000-square-foot outdoor space and includes more than two dozen playground elements, is the largest in the western hemisphere. Furnished with outdoor dining facilities, a landscaped park and a colorful play surface made of a six-inch thick ground rubber, it has an appealing taste.
But to the children present, it seemed they were not overly concerned about the huge area, but engaged themselves with the enticing activities designed to enhance and stimulate their thought processes. Added to the array of activities in the waiting, the day had a resplendent sunshine and warm temperature, typical of early summer, and complemented by the students’ break from school.
Intended to impress and captivate every visitor who walks its grounds, numerous exhibits are on display, not only to stare at, or touch, but designed for tactile participation. The playground has within its designs basic principles of science, which are at the center of its function. The hall’s director of marketing and communications, Michael Savino, explained that the playground is not just for having a good time but should be a learning experience as well.
“We staffed the playground with educated personnel or explainers, to add value to the experience,” he said, “to teach the physics, chemistry, and biology of its features.”
The concept was further endorsed by the Hall’s director of public programs, 20-year veteran Marcia Rudy, who explained that the playground is “representational of a beautiful technology.” She said it involved “not just the scientific aspect but the physical as well.” The body and the mind are expected to be take part in the experience.
Among the exhibits is the Whisper Dish, which uses sounds waves for effective communication between two or more people. A father and son were busy exploring its operation.
“This is cool,” yelled Art, to his father, John, seated and facing him approximately 20 feet away. His father, in a more controlled tone, whispered to his son, “Don’t speak so loudly, I can hear you.” His son, now even more fascinated by the clarity and resonance with which John’s response traveled. And while they immersed themselves into the wonders of sound waves, 11-year-old Shaina Thane from IS 285 in Brooklyn was enthralled by the Sun Catchers and Kinetic Sculpture. “Wow, this is great,” she gushed, directing her sunbeam from the mirrors to the bulls-eye targets a few feet away. The bulls-eye are equipped with light-activated switches, and when triggered by light they allow current to flow to a motor that activates a fog machine. Other children waited anxiously to catch the sun. Adults were not to be left out, as they appeared equally impressed with the many enlightening exhibits.
“I decided to take my kids out on the first day off from school,” explained a mother, engulfed in the discoveries carried out by her kids. “I want to exercise their minds, as well as mine,” she said. Brandishing a thick Jamaican accent, she encouraged other parents to take their kids to see “the interesting stuff they have here.”
The more adventurous children went about challenging the Spider Web, a huge web-like mass of tangles and twists which they found pleasure in climbing. Musically inclined visitors, including adults, set about playing the xylophones, all nine of them. Though they are different sizes, they play identical scales. Water lovers were in for a treat with the Whirlpool Dish and the Water Wheel, two water-operated exhibits focusing on water flow and direction.
Available exhibits also includes Slides, demonstrating the force of gravity into the force of motion; the Standing Spinner, which invites the public to examine how angular momentum stores energy; the Climbing Space Net; the Windmill Seat, the Wind Pipes; and other educational exhibits.
With this new playground, the Hall of Science is expecting visitation to rise within the next few months. Manager of Public Relations Wendy Brez said the day’s events symbolized the beginning of spring, and from now through December, the playground should make for healthy family fun.
Jordan Davis, 12, who experienced his first visit to the Hall, said at the end of the day he is sure to tell his friends about this new treat. He had traveled from Beach Channel. “It was very interesting. I’ll tell them what good time I had,” he said, looking through the Octascope, another novelty of science.
But for 6-year old Gerardo Ramona, a kindergartner at Our Lady of Sorrows School, apart from enjoying himself immensely, he boldly said, “I wish this was mine, so I could take it home.”
Admission to the playground is $2. For directions and more information, call 699-0005 or go to www.nyscience.org