NORTHAMPTON – Pure joy crosses the face of 2-year-old Toma Negishi as he rides the platform swing in the playroom of the REACH early intervention program in Northampton.
“He loves being on the swing,” said his mother, Ayaka Negishi, who watched and guided Toma through the swing. Toma also climbed the steps to a landing on the wooden play structure to which the swing is attached.
For Tom Murphy, an Amherst carpenter who recently retired after 26 years as an occupational therapist at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, making these play structures, or “baby cubes,” as they are called, is a job. of love. They are fun for toddler playgroups and can also be developmentally beneficial for young children who need more indoor places to move and explore.
“This stuff is designed to go to a preschool where they learn to carry things and push things,” Murphy said.
Murphy founded the Bogin Playscape Project to build the play structures that include the swing, a “bottle truck” that can be pulled, and places where kids can use their muscles while climbing and sliding down. The engine block games with wooden blocks, as well as the plastic bottles on board the bottle truck, allow children to manipulate small objects with their hands.
At REACH Early Intervention, a ServiceNet program that has sites in Northampton and North Amherst, play structures have been in use for more than eight years, said Prity Shah, director of REACH in Hampshire County.
Play structures provide a place for children up to 3 years old to use gross motor skills, she said. The swing, for example, is one aspect that a lot of kids crave, but others might be apprehensive about riding it. Being just six inches off the ground, however, can give all children comfort on the swing.
For older children, the platform can be a place for social activity where they can learn to talk to each other, Shah said. For infants, the ramp on the play structure can improve the stability of their shoulder girdle as infants learn to crawl. The gentle slide is also the right slope; many playgrounds and parks are intended for much older children.
“There is a lot of variety that we can do with it,” Shah said. “It makes it fun.”
Heather Leaf, Deputy Team Leader at REACH, said parents appreciate the way they can build the parent-child relationship within the facility.
“It’s a wonderful thing to see parents take pride in their kids as they slide down,” Leaf said. “It’s a safe place for them to train. “
“I love the REACH program so much,” Negishi said of the experience. “Toma has such great support.”
For Murphy, who trained as a furniture designer, his Bogin Playscape project is more than play structures. He has already built and donated nearly 300 “baby vans”, “ball feet” and ” ball ramps’ to daycares and preschools, with a non-toxic finish made with a cheese byproduct on the wooden parts, which are smooth and without sharp ends.
After recently completing one of the bottle trucks, Murphy placed 12 plastic seltzer water bottles in the openings so the kids could have something they can handle with their hands and something heavy to push. or to shoot. With much of virtual childhood, Murphy said, this type of play is beneficial.
“Children need to move heavy objects. The way childhood has changed too much, kids don’t get a chance to see how heavy things are, ”Murphy said.
Ball hitting requires kids to coordinate by placing a ball on one end and then jumping on the other, trying to catch the ball in their hands. Ball ramps are similar to Pinewood Derby events in Cub Scouts, where a ball or a toy car can go down the track.
Whatever Murphy develops he can afford to give, at the cost of his time alone.
The origins of the project date back to September 2011, when it started a seminar with a small group of students from Smith College and Springfield College. The idea was to find ways to develop play equipment that could be used in preschools and similar establishments, with equipment that was safe, inexpensive, and easily replicable.
Murphy named his company after Nancy Bogin, an early childhood educator and mentor in New Rochelle, New York, who died in 2009. She was the first person to hire him to work at the age of 16. year.
Prior to starting the project, Murphy designed and built playscapes for programs in New Rochelle and the Bronx, New York in the 1970s, and spent 12 years as a rehabilitation engineer designing wheelchairs. and other equipment adapted for people with disabilities.
Murphy discovered that it can be difficult to introduce playscapes in schools due to changing regulations and safety considerations.
“They don’t allow kids to be kids anymore,” Murphy said.
Her woodwork also includes a matching game with animal illustrations on small coaster-sized squares that were painted by her daughter, Helen. The idea is to take the squares and hide them. The children then choose an animal block, painted with images of tigers, lions, giraffes, elephants, monkeys or zebras, and search the room for the corresponding animal.
Murphy’s Project was also supported by the late Amherst resident Charlie Parham, who after his passing in 2019 had a part of the Bogin Playscape Project called Charlie’s Toys. Those who donated in memory of Parham enabled Murphy to obtain the materials needed for the project.
In August, Murphy completed an indoor playground for the North Berkshire Early Intervention Program in North Adams called Charlie’s Playground.
“He lives in his playground,” Murphy said.
Donations can continue to be made to the Bogin Playscape Project through The Collaborative for Educational Services at 97 Hawley St. in Northampton.
The next projects Murphy lined up are for the Amherst Montessori School and for the Preschool Toddler Room at Greenfield Central School. Murphy said he hopes to build continued ties with the two schools.
But Murphy also wants to inspire others to build similar play structures, and he will be leading training next spring and workshops with preschools.
“My goal is to build them and then get people to copy them,” Murphy said.
Scott Merzbach can be contacted at [email protected]