USM Gulf Coast gets 'playground in a box'

lwalck@sunherald.comJuly 11, 2014 

A pair of blue robots rose out of a random jumble of shapes and blocks Friday as the USM Gulf Coast's Institute for Disability Studies took a new indoor playground for its first run.

The institute received a $9,000 grant from national nonprofit KaBOOM! and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group for the "playground in a box."

On the Imagination Playground, two carts full of various waterproof shapes and connecting pieces can be assembled into many shapes and structures. The pieces are especially helpful for children with disabilities to exercise gross motor skills.

"The blocks are heavier and sturdier for a child with special needs," said the institute's director, Jane Siders. "They can manipulate it better."

She said they also give kids a chance to interact with each other, no matter the group size or age.

Anna David's 5-year-old and 4-year-old played on the equipment Friday. "We're new to Long Beach and we're glad they have things like this," she said. "We love it."

The theme for Friday's play day was outer space, so robots and space ships were encouraged.

Alicia Westbrook, senior training specialist for Early Intervention and Early Education, said the staff received training as part of the grant on how to best interact with the children.

"You just have to give them an idea and they just run with it," she said.

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