AIAS Freedom by Design Mixes Musical Expression with Playground Fun

The AIAS Freedom by Design members install the final playground equipment.

After nearly three years of work, College of Design student group AIAS Freedom by Design installed and unveiled a set of playground instruments for Karner Blue Education Center this May.

Designed to address the specific needs of students with autism, emotional behavioral disorders, and developmental cognitive disabilities, Karner Blue Education Center provides services to more than 100 students comprising 14 member districts in the Northeast Twin Cities metro area.

Working closely with Karner Blue instructors, Freedom by Design students designed and built three separate sets of instruments for Karner Blue’s outdoor playground: a large xylophone, a series of “drum walls,” and nine Cajón Drums. “The first instrument we constructed was the xylophone,” explained AIAS Freedom by Design President Nathan Anderson (Architecture). “It was created using two crossing beams with tension wire and the bells in between them. The second instrument we built was a series of “drum walls” composed of five different sized steel meshes with different sized drums attached.” This semester the group built the final set of instruments, the Cajón Drums, to tie all of the instruments together and to add seating.

The AIAS Freedom by Design members install the final musical instruments at the Karner Blue Education Center playground.

AIAS Freedom by Design members install the xylophone at the Karner Blue Education Center playground.

“The volunteers from the College of Design have created beautiful playground features that allow students to express themselves through music,” said Karner Blue Principal Naomi Lepore. “By combining music and nature, our students will be inspired to connect to something greater than themselves. These new playground features will ensure the themes students experience in the classroom will follow them as they play.”

“Music is a form of expression for everyone,” added Anderson. “Over the course of our partnership, we have also learned that kids react in different ways to different colors and tones. With that in mind, we have colored our instruments with very neutral and earthy tones, to create the most satisfying experience and we have been mindful to create different tones, pitches, and vibrations in our instruments, so there is an instrument for everyone depending on their needs.”

A "drum wall" for kids to use on the playground.

A “drum wall” for kids to use on the playground.

Instructors and students from Karner Blue got to experience the instruments first-hand at the installation and opening on May 15. “It is a feeling like no other to see the instruments installed. All of our hard work has been for a good cause and I know that the other Freedom by Design members are proud of what we have accomplished. I am really excited to see the instruments being put to use and to see how the students interact with them,” concluded Anderson.

The final set of instrument built, nine Cajón Drums.

The final set of instruments built, nine Cajón Drums.


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