With the help of a donation from Ripple NW, Columbia Play Project and Fourth Plain Forward will provide free, interactive sessions for kids in the community at the new Fourth Plain Community Commons, at 3101 E. Fourth Plain Blvd. Suite 101.
These sessions, called “Fourth Plain Exploratory Play Space,” will take place every Thursday and Friday morning and continue until Dec. 29 (with the exception of Nov. 6, 17 and 23).
On Thursday, Columbia Play Project hosted its third indoor session, a week after the inaugural session, which had a turnout of around 30 kids. Attendance quadrupled the next day, with almost 130 kids and their parents participating.
“As we learn more and more about play, we found its important components for a child’s educational development,” said founder and board chair Jeanne Bennett. “When they’re playing, they are actually building synapses in their brain that lay the architecture for their future educational development.”
Providing access to play
Fourth Plain Forward is a place-based nonprofit that says it is committed to uplifting diverse communities alongside those facing resource limitations and exclusion from mainstream services.
Nestled along Northeast Fourth Plain Boulevard, the Fourth Plain Community Commons is a collaboration between the Vancouver Housing Authority and the city of Vancouver that opened late September. The mixed-use project with a vibrant green, yellow and blue exterior includes a commercial kitchen, office space and a common area where the community can access resources, collaborate and hold events.
“It was a really important partnership between the commons and Columbia Play Project to bring access to play,” said Kiana Coburn, marketing coordinator at Fourth Plain Forward. “It’s such an important building stone for childhood development and a way for them to explore different concepts.”
All of the interactive sessions incorporate STREAM, which stands for science, technology, reading, engineering, art and math. All activities include a component of at least one of those, and are typically designed for kids 12 years old and younger.
The activities Thursday included Connect 4, a velocity launcher, magnetic tiles and music kits, train tracks and more. The open-concept space at Fourth Plain Community Commons allowed kids to roam freely and explore different activities.
“We want to give our kids the best head start we possibly can, when they’re little and continue to enrich them as they grow,” Bennett said.
Bennett started Columbia Play Project in 2019, alongside co-founder Mary Sisson, with the intention of creating a space for kids in Clark County to have freedom through play. It is a project designed to expand play options and a hub where all families can safely engage, connect, explore and ignite their imaginations, according to its website.
Columbia Play Project first wanted to build a children’s museum, but that proved difficult during the height of the pandemic. Instead, Bennett and the team opted to create a mobile children’s museum, where they could bring collections of toys and activities and travel to various places around the county.
“There aren’t as many resources like this for families in Clark County, so we decided to try to do activities sooner rather than waiting until we have a full-scale museum,” Bennett explained.
They began by traveling to local parks, schools and churches and setting up the play museum in those spaces. This pop-up structure allowed them to reach different areas of the community, while still supporting the mission.
“We designed those during the early stages of the pandemic, when there was absolutely nothing for kids to do,” Bennett said. “They couldn’t even go to their local park, because the parks were closed, and so we had to do something to try to encourage kids to get outside to continue to make their brains work.”
Four years later, Columbia Play Project and its partnership with Fourth Plain Forward, has given kids and their families a dedicated space for tangible and exploratory play. Bennett said she hopes to continue these sessions after they end in late December, but it’s contingent on securing more funding.
Regardless, Columbia Play Project hopes to one day have a full-scale children’s museum up and running in Clark County.
“We want the commons to be a hub of resources, where the community can come in and use it as they see fit,” Coburn said. “It’s not just equal access, it’s equitable access.”
To donate to Columbia Play Project and learn more about its mission, visit https://columbiaplayproject.org/ .
Fourth Plain Community Commons hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and closed on the weekends. For inquiries about booking the space, reach out to email@example.com.
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.