Friday, July 1, 2011

Smoothing the rocky road: forward with the science play space project

I had a lot of stuff to say…a few days ago. Some interpersonal stuff and misunderstandings came out at a meeting. I think we've mended fences now.
However, I do think the last two meetings have been kind of dragging so apparently the group is not perceived as “fun” enough for some people to make it a high priority.  That’s kind of sad to me- priority for me isn’t really based on the fun factor (I think?), but the importance of the project.  However, there are lots of important projects out there, so I guess it does have to be “fun” enough or at least inspiring enough to continue.  I just wish I wasn’t responsible for making it “fun” as well as getting stuff done.  I guess I’ll have to work on that.  I never have liked being a cheerleader for getting things done.  At least in this case, I’m willing to admit that being a cheerleader is part of the job description and I'll just have to work harder on it.

Anyway, one of the ideas I’ve been mulling over is to make the science play space some kind of cooperative- that is put in some time and/or some money, and then you can use it whenever you want.  It’s close to the membership a lot of science center’s have, but in this case members are more responsible- and get more ownership.  I take the model from the natural food store we used to be members of in Ithaca- there you put in some hours and got huge discounts.  However, in this case, I think if you put in enough hours you would get free use of the space.  This would address the concern with not having enough volunteers and the concern with low income.  There are a number of ways to lower admission costs such as discounts, coupons, sponsorship, but the person I talked to said she thought people do not like to think of other people as paying their way.  She’s probably correct, and this model would allow for people who have time, but not money to take part and contribute something valuable.  For people with money and not time- no problem- we can always use money.  And if you don’t want to be a member, pay to be a guest for the day. 

I’ve never heard of a science center doing this, but I did find a few examples of cooperative play spaces on the internet, so I think it can be done successfully.  Governance and rules will be tricky though.  And you’d have to really train people to be good members.  Still, I think this might be the most viable way to do it- and give people an ownership feeling of it.  A few people I’ve run the idea by think it might be worth pursuing…though I am a bit concerned to be proposing not only a new institution, but one that is run in a new way.  That might be a lot of newness to deal with.

I have some additional ideas that are related (yes lots of ideas this week). The first is to have a toy library or toy exchange at the site.  I found a few examples of places that do this, so again, I believe it can be done. I have a feeling we will get duplicate toy donations.  I also think many households- even low income- will grow out of toys, whish to put away some toys for a while, want to have a new toy around for a short time until the child gets bored or outgrows it.  So members could participate in this.

I also think we could set up some boxes with clothing donations with different ages for people to donate and pick through.  With volunteers this could work.  Kids are always outgrowing clothing, and you never know what to do with it.  And you are always looking for more hand-me-downs for them.  This could be another benefit of being in the coop.  Instead of having to go to a charity, second hand store, garage sale to donate or receive, its just a benefit of being a member.  I don’t think there would be a lack of clothing.

I’d also like a tool library… but I think that really takes expertise to maintain… maybe in the long term.

I was reading an article that fits in perfectly with these ideas- actually it was MY idea, but I’ve never read it in print before.  My idea is that its silly to have everyone owning each thing separately and not getting full use out of it- its better to share a large interesting play space than each person owning it.  This goes for playgrounds, tools, clothing, toys, and lots of other things… if you can make them work as a shared resource.  Shared resources don’t always work, and are not always as convenient, but I think there are times when we could really benefit from making more things shared.  With communal spaces and things we can bring community together- which is what people really need sometimes anyway.  There are costs for shared resources- maintaining them, keeping track of them, etc, but these are often people hour costs, not the cost of buying tons of new stuff, one for each family.

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