It STEMs from a song

pots and pans hanging from a fence outside

Junkyard Rascals brought their final installment of the STEM-inspired play series to the closing finale of KidsFest Shellharbour at the stunning Killalea Reserve south of Sydney.

KidsFest Shellharbour is NSW’s longest running free children’s festival. Events are hosted by community service organisations and supported by local businesses and artists to develop an increased sense of inclusion and belonging. With a whole week of activities designed just for families. KidsFest prides itself on creating inclusive and unique signature events, which each year are themed around the United Nations International theme.

With 2023 being the year of Millet, KidsFest 2023 was themed on “Planting Seeds of Diversity and Delight”. Each day of the festival brought different community groups together with art, stories, play, trains, circus, culture, science and music.

For this installment of their STEM-inspired play, Junkyard Rascals paired up with local legend of interactive “junk” music making, Mark the Sax. Mark is a renowned jazz musician, teacher at Wollongong Conservatorium of Music and passionate junk instrument creator.

The play session was titled “It STEMs from a song” highlighting the importance and connection between science and music as well as an acknowledgement that the growth of curiosity can “stem” from something seemingly small or insignificant. From planting tiny seeds of interest by simply providing opportunity, who knows what might grow into a lifetime of passion and discovery.

The day began with cleansing smoke and the beautiful sounds of didgeridoo and song as Gumarra performed a Welcome to Country. The giant open-ended play and learning space with loose-parts and junk instruments. Wood planks clanked, pots and bowls crashed as symbols, thongs slapped out rhythms on PVC pipes, and the sound of saxophones added a professional and smooth background to the joyful ruckus and mayhem of children exploring how to make sounds with different materials. Parents joined in to discover how to cut pipes carefully to create a full scale of sound and why metal instruments sound so different to wood.

As each learning experience occurred side by side, children collected different things from around the space and tested ideas. First Nations workshops on weaving, boomerang throwing and bush tucker added to the experience as kids ran from one place to another playing, then disappearing on a workshop, then reappearing to test what they had learned on the junk. One Dad and daughter team even managed to build a recycled pipe boomerang by lashing together pipes with bunting and wool. It whistled as it flew, and did not return on throwing, but they were overjoyed all the same.

This was the final event in the STEM-inspired play series which saw Junkyard Rascals pair up with different experts from government, industry, academia and the arts in everything from sustainability, engineering and microscopy to sculpture, music and creative arts. Each activation showcased experts in a fun and playful way alongside a loose-parts junkyard just waiting to be explored. Experts were available for casual “chats” and challenges throughout each activation, allowing kids access to ideas and careers they may never have heard of or thought possible for them.

The purpose of these events was to inspire kids to play outside the box, creating spaces where they can follow their own curiosities, explore and learn. Junkyard Rascals believe the next generation of out of the box thinkers grow through following a special spark and passion that is only found within.

Guest blog by Quill Darby of Junkyard Rascals. The STEM-inspired play series was funded by Inspiring NSW in 2023.