Cover image for The design of childhood : how the material world shapes independent kids
Title:
The design of childhood : how the material world shapes independent kids
ISBN:
9781632866356
Physical Description:
407 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm.
Contents:
Introduction -- Blocks -- House -- School -- Playground -- City -- Conclusion.
Summary:
From building blocks to city blocks, an eye-opening exploration of how children's playthings and physical surroundings affect their development. Parents obsess over their children's playdates, kindergarten curriculum, and every bump and bruise, but the toys, classrooms, playgrounds, and neighborhoods little ones engage with are just as important. These objects and spaces encode decades, even centuries of changing ideas about what makes for good child-rearing--and what does not. Do you choose wooden toys, or plastic, or, increasingly, digital? What do youngsters lose when seesaws are deemed too dangerous and slides are designed primarily for safety? How can the built environment help children cultivate self-reliance? In these debates, parents, educators, and kids themselves are often caught in the middle. Now, prominent design critic Alexandra Lange reveals the surprising histories behind the human-made elements of our children's pint-size landscape. Her fascinating investigation shows how the seemingly innocuous universe of stuff affects kids' behavior, values, and health, often in subtle ways. And she reveals how years of decisions by toymakers, architects, and urban planners have helped--and hindered--American youngsters' journeys toward independence. Seen through Lange's eyes, everything from the sandbox to the street becomes vibrant with buried meaning. Perfect for parents, educators, and anyone interested in design and architecture, [this book] will change the way you view the world--by showing it to you through children's eyes. --
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Summary

Summary

From building blocks to city blocks, an eye-opening exploration of how children's playthings and physical surroundings affect their development.

Parents obsess over their children's playdates, kindergarten curriculum, and every bump and bruise, but the toys, classrooms, playgrounds, and neighborhoods little ones engage with are just as important. These objects and spaces encode decades, even centuries of changing ideas about what makes for good child-rearing--and what does not. Do you choose wooden toys, or plastic, or, increasingly, digital? What do youngsters lose when seesaws are deemed too dangerous and slides are designed primarily for safety? How can the built environment help children cultivate self-reliance? In these debates, parents, educators, and kids themselves are often caught in the middle.

Now, prominent design critic Alexandra Lange reveals the surprising histories behind the human-made elements of our children's pint-size landscape. Her fascinating investigation shows how the seemingly innocuous universe of stuff affects kids' behavior, values, and health, often in subtle ways. And she reveals how years of decisions by toymakers, architects, and urban planners have helped--and hindered--American youngsters' journeys toward independence. Seen through Lange's eyes, everything from the sandbox to the street becomes vibrant with buried meaning. The Design of Childhood will change the way you view your children's world--and your own.


Author Notes

Alexandra Lange is an architecture and design critic whose essays, reviews, and features have appeared in design journals, New York magazine, the New Yorker , the New York Times , Curbed , Design Observer , Dezeen , and many other publications. She received a PhD in twentieth-century architecture history from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. She is the author of Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities , the e-book The Dot-Com City: Silicon Valley Urbanism , and co-author of Design Research: The Story that Brought Modern Living to American Homes . She lives in Brooklyn, New York.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Architectural historian Lange (Writing About Architecture) skillfully explores how the design of children's toys and built environments reflects evolving philosophies of child-rearing and development. Lange begins by discussing how children learn through building toys like standarized wooden "unit blocks," introduced in the early 20th century; their more adaptable successor, Lego; and today's digital alternative, Minecraft. The construction of high chairs, school desks, and playgrounds, meanwhile, reveals shifting value judgments by parents and educators about the balance between participation, freedom, and safety. Lange contrasts the suburban model of the home as primary play space with modern city designs that aim to allow children to play freely near their homes. When money is not made available to update spaces in lower-income areas, she warns, those communities can suffer. The book also tracks the design of classrooms and schools over the course of American history, from the earliest one-room schoolhouses; through the fixed-desk rows of the late 19th century, when reformers began introducing compulsory education; to today's open-plan layouts. Never attempting the role of parenting guru or educator, Lange is not prescriptive, but does powerfully remind readers of the importance of constructing spaces that make all people, including children, feel both welcomed and independent. B&w photos. Agenct: Phyillis Wender, Gersh Agency. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Kirkus Review

An informative road map for those who want to maximize their children's material environment.When architecture critic Lange (The Dot-Com City: Silicon Valley Urbanism, 2014, etc.) had her first child, she "came to see each successive stage of childhood development as an opportunity for encounters with larger and more complex environments." Her approach is primarily historical and design-focused as she explores five specific topics that make up the "designed-for-childhood environment": blocks, house, school, playground, and city. Corrugated cardboard boxes appeared in the 1870s, and children quickly saw their appeal as playthings. Wooden beads and blocks gained popularity around 1900. Blocks designed by Friedrich Froebel, the inventor of kindergarten, became popular when Milton Bradley began manufacturing them in the 1870s. Lange then traces the development and sophistication of blocks from the Danish LEGO (leg godt or "play well") to "Minecraft" to Zoob, each crucial to stimulating children's imaginations. Next up is house; as the author writes, children "need furnishings couched to their frames but also to their abilities." The high chair dawned in the 1830s, followed by kid-size dishes. In 1929, Parents magazine featured the "Whole-Family House." Lange teaches us about Maria Montessori, the "magic of the storage wall," and the significance of Peter Opsvik's multipurpose Tripp Trapp chair. School focuses on how "pedagogy and architecture go hand in hand." The first spaces in America called "play grounds" were created in Boston in 1885 out of piles of sand, and the first jungle gym was installed in Winnetka, Illinois, in 1920. Lange argues that "segregating children's play from the flow of urban life creates its own problems." She hands out A ratings to cities (Rotterdam, Oslo, Seattle) who are redesigning city spaces in terms of children's welfare. Disneyland gets an A-plus for its exemplary "child-friendly outdoor environment."Parents and educators will discover a wealth of information to inspire and help "make childhood a better place." Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

Since the nineteenth century, educators, sociologists, and designers have been shaping how children play, learn, and grow. Placing familiar cultural objects like LEGOs and jungle gyms within this longer history, design and architecture critic Lange reveals how kids' lives are carefully theorized and planned beyond the choices their parents make. As befits Lange's background, she writes with both an academic's expertise and a journalist's hooks and accessibility. Ample illustrations show, for instance, the evolution of classroom-desk design over time as well as experimental, mazelike playgrounds that, sadly, were never built. Divided into chapters that scale out from a child's first playthings (blocks) to the design of homes, schools, playgrounds, and streets, Lange's survey shows how kids learn to be creative, social citizens in these different spaces (or how architects and others hope they will). Certain examples, such as an educator's conviction that 50 sheets of wasted paper were necessary for one little girl's growth, are questionable but offer an important reminder of the importance of play in a world increasingly organized around efficiency.--Maggie Taft Copyright 2018 Booklist


Choice Review

This is a welcome addition to scholarly literature on the nature and history of childhood play. Lange is a well-published critic of human-constructed architectural environments. Much of Design of Childhood is historical, identifying the principles that underlie the ebb and flow of how adults (for better or worse) have designed material environments and toys (large and small) for children since the early 20th century. Chapter titles--"Blocks," "House," "School," "Playground," "City"--reveal the book's focus and approach. One of Lange's overriding themes is that, since the late 20th century, adults have been overprotecting children and thereby undermining their independence, creativity, and social development. By the author's own admission, the book is intended to be more descriptive (facts) than prescriptive (values), which is mostly true. Some critics will argue that this results in wishy-washy prescriptive conclusions, as evident in the book's final sentences, which urge learning from the past in order to "make childhood a better place." Nevertheless, this is an important addition to a rapidly expanding literature that has largely ignored design issues. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers.--Ronald F. White, Mount St. Joseph University


Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 Blocksp. 11
Chapter 2 Housep. 70
Chapter 3 Schoolp. 125
Chapter 4 Playgroundp. 201
Chapter 5 Cityp. 268
Conclusionp. 337
Acknowledgmentsp. 345
Notesp. 349
Bibliographyp. 381
Indexp. 397