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Carnival of the mind

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Dorita Betts Borgerson had a dream of creating a state-certified after-school program where digital screens would be taboo and elementary-school kids could unleash their creativity by recycling reams of old cardboard, bottle caps, ping-pong balls and rope into a dazzling arcade of games for them and the community to enjoy.

Now, her dream is a reality.

Called Creative Connections, the cardboard carnival opened Saturday, June 1, running from 10 a.m. to noon in Wesley Hall of Ashland United Methodist Church, 175 N. Main St. It’s free and open to the public.

“We got going on this in response to so many parents who said there isn’t much choice in after-school programs and affordable child care,” said Borgerson, who is a minister with the church. “Over a year of work, the games program teaches problem-solving, teamwork, mindfulness, introspection about going through trial and error, essentially inventing games and making them work.”

The project was inspired by a boy in California who built an engaging and popular cardboard arcade, as seen on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=faIFNkdq96U). It’s essentially an original STEM project but with science, art, engineering and math.

It features Skee-ball, miniature golf, a claw on a rope that picks up and drops objects, a sloping race track with tiny cars, “Feed the Mouse” by dropping ping-pong balls through Swiss cheese, and bowling with a tennis ball on a string, knocking empty milk cartons instead of pins.

“You see their creative minds at work in a space where kids can grow and ask questions,” says teacher Hannah Borgerson, a recent environmental engineering graduate of Southern Oregon University. “The kids get so sucked into digital technology these days, but here, there’s space for them to fail, try again, be creative pioneers, instead of just editing out mistakes and getting instant gratification.”

Tia Hatch, a longtime Walker Elementary School volunteer, says instructors focus on a range of creativity and science, such as working with measuring cups, studying notable artists, learning to weave and sew, all the while encouraging teamwork where introverts and extroverts mix and learn to create together.

“They live in such a fast-paced world,” says Borgerson. “Here they can work on being mindful, finding their core center. We help them find grounding, with individual attention. We teach use and reuse of our resources and help them realize you can do so much with so little.”

The program buses children from Walker Elementary but invites kids from anywhere. It’s an outreach of the church “because we care about children, and the more we offer and support kids, the better off we all will be,” Dorita Betts Borgerson says, adding it has no religious content.

The K-5 after-school program operates on local donations and bequests. It costs $200 a month and runs five days a week. The upcoming year-long program will start in late August and is taking sign-ups now. To enroll, call 541-488-3019 or see http://ashlandmethodist.org/creative-connections.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Correction: A previous version of this article labeled Tia Hatch as the Walker Elementary School librarian. Julie Grantham is the school's librarian.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings Students play with a cardboard arcade games at Creative Connection after school program in Ashland.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings Eleven-year-old JD Long plays with a cardboard arcade game at Creative Connection after school program in Ashland.