MoMA Playground Symposium talks are online!


And speaking of MoMA, I’ve been remiss in letting you know that all the talks from the Playground Symposium, “The Child in the City of Play” are available online.

It’s a long series to sit through, so here are my key moments if you’re pressed for time!

  • From Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek (Temple University Psych Department) I learned that studies on three types of learning-through-play:  free play (child initiated, child directed) guided play (adult initiated–think ‘designed’, child directed) and directed play (adult initiated, adult directed) show clearly that guided play is the most effective.  Translating that to the playground space, it highlights the importance of an adult providing an enlightened design that nevertheless allows the child maximum flexibility in choosing exactly how they play within that designed space.“If we don’t ever help children focus on the right elements within the landscape, then they’re not going to learn. That’s okay, they can be playing just to have fun…but if our goal is to try to have more learning, we need to rethink how we design our spaces so that kids can travel through well-designed spaces and get learning from them.”   “If we design our…spaces well, children WILL learn…everywhere can be a learning opportunity if it’s designed right.”See especially the study on the relationship of block play to spatial language from 24:18 to 27:55
  • I generally steer clear of toys on this blog, trying to stay focused on spaces rather than objects.  But  the “Playful Objects” presentation by Neil Stevenson of IDEO reminded me of the aspirational nature of children’s play.  Children like to ‘play up’, as it were, which is why Barbie, a toy intended originally for 13-year olds is now adopted between the age of 3 and 6 and abandoned by the age of 8 as ‘hopelessly childish’, an effect the toy companies even have an acronym for:  KAGOY means ‘kids getting older younger’.  And this is incredibly important for playgrounds as well;  KAGOY is why an 8 year old will refuse to touch a playground that looks like a tot-lot.  And why increasingly dumbing-down playgrounds due to an overemphasis on safety means that eventually only four-year olds will be playing on them.  The audience these playgrounds seek to serve will have taken their aspirational play elsewhere, mostly to video games.  See the sections on aspiration from 1:01:15 to 1:02:07 and 1:08:44 to 1:11:00, and the explicit relationship to playspaces at 1:17:15.“Given that unstoppable wave of KAGOY…it’s about finding ways to get kids in to playgrounds that we stop calling playgrounds…I’d be putting my money into playspaces that were cool enough for teens.  The kids don’t want to do anything that’s ‘young’…it’s giving them structures that…are also aspirational to them.” 
  • If you only have time for one talk, make it West8’s Adriaan Geuze at 1:23:16 to1:47:52. Adriaan has a typically northern European view:  that children should be welcome–and welcome to play–throughout the city, that play should be intergenerational, and that worries about the danger of play are ridiculously overrated.  The way he integrates play into the city space, without ever defining a ‘playground’ is so inspiring that I couldn’t really figure out a highlight, but don’t miss Adriaan demonstrating how he feels at being forced into an overly safe design for London’s Jubilee Gardens at 1:29:14!  Watch for more features on West8’s playful work here on the blog soon.

    Referring to their design for Madrid:  “Play areas are never distinguished [as to whether they are] for children, for ages, for adults.  Never.  Everything becomes a play object.”
  • Amy Freitag’s presentation was very New York-centric, appropriate for the venue, but her survey of public-private partnerships and particularly of Bette Midler’s New York Restoration project, which is a conservancy, startlingly enough, for neglected open spaces in low income neighborhoods, is instructive for anyone seeking to work in high-need communities.   Her willingness to highlight a space that didn’t work–the installation of a beautiful but culturally obtuse garden/playscape that included a Tudor playhouse (in East Harlem!) should make any playscape maker stop and think about the need for local context.  See the story at 35:48 to 37:54 in the second set of videos.  The NYRP learned, and moved on to overhaul spaces with a much lighter touch and increased attention to existing community patterns, reaping unexpected benefits from intergenerational spaces:“Play has a much broader definition and for the older set that play is dominoes…the elder players help establish a sense of safety in the space, as a result gardeners, children, everyone feels safe to occupy and use the space. It really reminds you of those playworkers of the Robert Moses era.”I love the idea of the elders as the gatekeepers and protectors of play!

P.S. to my long-suffering correspondent applicants; I am STILL working on getting in touch with all of you!  If you’re in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand or South America you should have heard from me by now.  Europe, Canada and the U.S. are still in process.


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