Saturday, June 6, 2015

Loose Parts Nature Play: Ramps!

Okay, so I kind of drool over the Kodo catalog. Seriously, I love the stuff in it, but it's a little pricey! I wondered about making these ramps on our own, so showed them to my good friend's husband. He said, sure, we can make those! Watching the kids experiment, problem solving, cooperate, collaborate, and more, I knew I did the right thing by making this happen. It was magical. I look forward to using it in more ways, too, like running water through it for an upcoming Mud Day! This video by Kodo Kids shows some of the potential and benefits of using the ramps.

As a loose part in a natural playground or even our front yards (I had extra made for my house, too!), there are many ways that children (and adults) can use these to figure out cause and effect. Our friend donated a few wooden balls to go with the ramps, so it was fun to see them roll! What else can we use these for? Do other things roll down? We tried a larger ball and it didn't fit, so it makes for a good experiment. I find the balls almost a necessity. The prices are decent at Kodo Kids, but I also found some a little cheaper at Amazon (affiliate link): 1 1/2 inch wooden ball

This family really got into a complex system with the ramps. It mostly worked, but sometimes they needed to adjust it or move it slightly so the ball would end up at the end. It reminded me of a big marble maze--we have wooden blocks with grooves for marbles that we can put together in different combinations. We love them! This is a similar concept on steroids! 

As a side note, I wouldn't mind either some type of "base" or the mini sand bags to use with the ramps; however, we did okay with our variety of logs and smaller pieces that we had in our Messy Materials area in the outdoor classroom at Woodlawn Nature Center. The bases could be made and might still be made by our friend. I did some searching, yet haven't found a less expensive (or really any) source for smaller sand bags for children to use. I noticed that children tried to make "tunnels" with them, so leaving some tubes whole (instead of cutting them in half) might be smart. The possibilities are really endless. Use it with water, attach them to a wall in different configurations, or try various natural items to roll down the ramp. Add other elements, such as the clear tube (where do you find that materials?). Other children were making tunnels with the log pieces above the ramp. How cool! The wooden balls were a great addition! Our friend gave those to us as he had them sitting in his workshop for a couple of years. 

So, how do you make them? Ready for our Loose Parts Hacks? We bought three 3 inch PVC pipes at Lowe's We opted for the thicker core type. Each was about $11, so not too pricey. Remember, these are going to be cut in half, so you'll have more than you think. Basically, one 10 foot pipe gives 20 feet of ramp. And, yes, they fit in the Swaggerwagon just fine. I tried to buy them another day and I didn't think it would work so we had to buy a saw just in case, you know, because we're trying to save money by making them. :-)

At our friend's house, we used a chop saw to cut our lengths. We opted for 1ft, 2ft, and 3ft. We even tried a few at 18 inches just for variety. Since we were working with younger children, we felt we didn't need a 4 footer. Of course, a face mask and safety goggles are good for safety. We stacked them up as we were finished with them.

Then our friend set up a guide and sent them through his band saw to cut them in half. He did mention there was a little bit of twisting, but it worked overall.

The longer ones needed a little extra support--having a couple people help allowed it to go faster and gave extra hands as needed. As you can see, there was a lot of "dust" and particles from it. A shop vac can help with that. 

These were then sanded on a drill press with sand paper and a belt sander. Having the right tools set up made it go a lot faster. I would say it took us about 1 1/2 hours to chat and make our three pipes worth. So not too bad at all. To make this a little nice, we could go over it with sand paper at about 120 grit, though I found them okay enough to use with kids. All the sharp edges were smoothed off. To look a little more professional, a little acetone from the hardware store would take off any writing on the side.

Charlie, thanks so much for making these for us! We're going to have a blast! Charlie makes all kinds of thing, like leatherwork, replicas, fire starting kits, knives, and so much more. Find him at Laughing Otter Trading Post. Don't have the tools or time to make your own ramps? He can make them locally for a better price than what you might find in a catalog. Check it out! 

I looked around his workshop--of course lots of leather working and even a fur!