It’s not every weekend that rockets fly through the air in Ridgefield.
Children from across Clark County joined in on community fun hosted by the Columbia Play Project at Overlook Park on Saturday, where a series of stations provided engaging, experimental play for all ages.
Perhaps the most popular of the stations were two makeshift wooden rocket launchers, where children attached foam rockets to cardboard wings and pulled back hard — each trying to see who could send theirs farther than the last one.
“This is exploratory play,” said Jeanne Bennett, the board chair of the Columbia Play Project. “When the kids come in, they drift around and find what’s interesting to them and adapt the activity to how they enjoy it most.”
Saturday’s four-hour, open-to-all event was part of a summer-long series of moving pop-ups hosted by Bennett’s crew in an effort to help children explore play that actively guides them to think and solve problems. As 18-month-old Desmond Kelsey and his father, Dane, explored a series of colorful plastic gears, Bennett explained how for especially young children, these stations are more than any typical way to spend a Saturday.
“He’s so young, but he’s experimenting. That builds synapses in his brain, which become the architecture for future learning processes,” Bennett said. “It’s especially great when parents participate alongside their kids; they get to watch their children learn.”
Though the events will continue across the county in the coming weeks, Bennett said, the Columbia Play Project has much larger long-term goals: both a mobile and a permanent children’s museum based in Clark County.
The mobile museum, she said, would provide similar pop-up events at rotating locations in the area like schools, nonprofits and community centers. Not only would it allow for a variety of experiences across locations; it would also tackle a main issue with many brick-and-mortar museums: equity.
“Children’s museums tend to attract wealthier people who have money and can drive places,” Bennett said. “We can make this much more accessible by bringing these activities to everyone’s communities so that as many people as possible can participate. Our goal is to keep a mobile unit going even if we were to get a full-scale museum.”
Marlon Martin, a retired science teacher from Washougal and self-proclaimed “math and science dude,” has volunteered with the project for seven months, bringing with him to pop-up events a collection of homemade science experiments and interactive toys.
“I really enjoy re-purposing things,” Martin said, gesturing toward a water squirter he bought at Dollar Tree that he’s converted into a series of mini rocket launchers powered by compressed air.
“I really missed not being able to do hands-on, fun stuff,” he said. “With this, I get to do that and don’t have to go to any meetings or deal with any paperwork. It’s a real pleasure. I get a real joy out of doing this.”
Monteo McCudden and her daughter Aiya, 4, drove from Woodland after seeing a notice about the event online.
Though shy, Aiya said her favorite activity station was a collection of mini baseball launchers, which shot ping-pong balls into the air. As a small timer ended and the balls flew into the air, she and other children squealed in delight, chasing after their balls to try it again and again.
“We would regularly come back, no problem,” McCudden said. “I just like how many people are here to help. It’s a very altruistic thing.”
The Columbia Play Project’s next pop-up event will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Vancouver’s Waterfront Park. Details on future events can be found at https://columbiaplayproject.org/events.