STEM exploration on the river

Junkyard Rascals presented another child-led STEM exploration at the Shoalhaven River Festival in October 2022 on the banks of the beautiful Shoalhaven river on the NSW South Coast. This Junk Playground activation was themed on light and waves and the ‘lighter side of art’ exploring the connection between art and science.

To help provoke creativity and provide answers to the many burning questions of the young minds exploring through play, the Junkyard Rascals loose-parts playspace was joined by two amazing women in STEM and a young local artist.

Dr Lisanne Spenkelink, is a research fellow from the University of Wollongong Molecular Horizons, Dr Stephanie Ruiz is an experienced science communicator and leader of Waste Management at ANSTO, and young local artist JJ Paino utilises recycled materials and unusual ways to work with light.

To start the day, dozens upon dozens of kids arrived by boat, on homemade junk flotillas, which were part of the festival’s junk boat race competition. After that it was a blur of light reflections, water-play and creativity. The reflections from the river so appropriately created ripples of light across the playspace and the overhead trees cast changing shadows that were incorporated into the play via stencils and pattern copying.

To one side, a dirt pile, activated with an array of loose-parts was turned into a muddy sculpture of learning, as water was scooped from the river via elaborately crafted pulley systems made from junk and hung from trees on the waters edge. To the other side, our expert-led crafting circle produced works of art, with everything from hanging CD mobiles through to burnt wood imagery. There is nothing more fitting than art created using nothing but the sun and a magnifying glass

And as kids tend to do, all sorts of amazing things happened that no one would have expected. Old transparent roof sheeting and cardboard boxes created cubby houses that glowed with fluorescent markers and a UV light. Fancy lace tablecloths were painted bright colours and strung from ropes creating even more interesting shadows. It was a thing of beauty, art creating science and science creating art.

Junkyard Rascals is continuing to bring their unusual brand of this STEM-inspired play mayhem to the South Coast in 2023, creating a series of pop-up playgrounds at events in the Illawarra, Shellharbour, Shoalhaven and Eurobodalla regions. Each pop-up is themed around a different scientific concept related to the different community events.

The Junk Playground is popping up next with their Sustainabili-TEA Party as part of The Majors Creek Festival in March 2023, and at KidsFest Shellharbour in May 2023.