Playing better is one giant leap for humankind

For those who accuse the ToT of being too negative, pessimistic, etc. I am going to keep throwing back at you some of the really positive things I notice in the world.

Today, I give you an advancement in playgrounds. New York City, a place I am gaining more respect for over time, is on its way to installing a better playground. A father and architect named David Rockwell is trying to make playgrounds more kid-friendly. The one planned in the NYC will have pulleys and foam blocks, allow you to move buckets of sand from one place to another, play with water and generally engage kids on a deeper level than the old standby of swings, slides and climbing equipment.

Some may ask: what is wrong with slides and swings? Aren't they good enough, it's just a playground after all. My response is: why not try to improve it? Don't we all remember being kids and wishing that the playground had more to offer? The monkey bars and sunken tires of the 1950s and 1960s era gave way to the wooden quasi-castles and rope bridges of the 1980s, and they were a huge improvement. Then the 1990s came with plastic tubes to crawl through, kid-size rockwalls and entire hideaway spots and neat surprises. As our understanding of kids and child development expands, why not keep up to speed with the playthings?

That is the sweet morsel at the heart of human advancement and humanism. We keep finding that our capacities are greater than we once thought and not only can we handle more and doing it better, we're better off handling more and doing it better. Kids are the epitome of this realization: they are savvy little scientists who use play, imagination and fantasy to deconstruct the world, examine how it works and doesn't work, and then put it back together. And have fun doing it.

Three year old Micro Trackball is always killing off his superheroes because it's how he explores the concept of death. He has no real idea of what it means, but he role plays it on pretend people (or pretends it happens to real people "when I die...") to learn what it means and what it doesn't. No amount of explanation from his parents or big sister substitutes for having Superman 'die' over and over again. Minnie Trackball, at seven, is doing much the same thing by 'fortune-telling' where she uses these silly paper things to predict your car, job, best friend, favorite color and a bunch of other odd things. She's play-exploring what it means to be grown up (and driving us nuts in the process).

The adult world is slowly waking up to the idea that kids are not stupid pets who have to learn to become smart - the smarts are there and they hit the ground learning, if only the adults wouldn't get in the way. This doesn't just work with the preschool set and older, but infants too.

Now the new playground may fail. The little people will vote with their feet and let the city know. But it's always worth it to keep trying. Someone will see this playground and will be inspired to improve on it. That is how progress happens. That is how Rockwell came to design this park. Every generation of parents should stand around and marvel at their kids' schools, toys and opportunities and say "I wish we had this when we were kids."

Now if someone would put effort into improving playgrounds for all us adults too, we could make the world better at a faster pace. The IDEO folks are doing it, but they haven't got to my office just yet.

No comments: