Read This Book: The Design of Childhood
I first heard about The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids in a NPR interview with the author. It immediately piqued my interest. Design, education and learning spaces are some of my favorite subjects. Bringing them all together in one book sounds amazing. And it is, and so much more. Alexandra Lange digs deep into the fascinating history of childhood in the West. I found myself constantly nodding along. I was intrigued by the way some things have changed, while other things have come back around. It’s not exactly a professional development book and it’s not written specifically for educators. But so much of the content revolves around the history and sociology of education in the West. It is definitely a relevant read for all educators and anyone who interacts with children.
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What’s it about?
The book is divided up into five sections that focus on different ways design influences children. Blocks focuses on the toys that children learn with, from Froebel’s blocks to LEGO’s to modern makerspace tech toys. House looks at the design of living spaces and how they affect childhood development. School was certainly my favorite chapter. It went back and looked at the history of school and learning space design. I was happy to see places I’ve visited (schools in Columbus, IN) and people and design firms I’ve followed mentioned in this chapter.
The chapter on playgrounds looks at how the child’s world expands beyond school and home, in play spaces meant for children. Finally, the city chapter focuses on how the child interacts with the city and wider world.
There were so many moments where I pulled out my phone to snap a picture of something in this book. I plan to buy a copy myself and reread it (the copy I read was from the public library), because I want to go back and highlight and underline so many passages. This particular quote from John Dewey stood out to me:
“If we put before the mind’s eye the ordinary schoolroom, with its rows of ugly desks placed in geometrical order, crowded together so that there should be as little moving room as possible, desks almost all of the same size, with just enough space to hold book, pencils and paper, and add a table, some chairs, the bare walls, and possibly a few pictures, we can reconstruct the only educational activity that can possibly go on in such a place. It is all made ‘for listening’” – John Dewey, The School and Society & the Child and Curriculum.
Y’all, he first wrote that in 1900. 1900!!! And sadly, those words could easily describe many of our classrooms today. The biggest takeaway for me was that the fight to create dynamic learning spaces and tools that help our students to grow in their creativity is not something new. It’s been going on for over 100 years.
If you’re interested in the history of childhood and how design can affect how children grow, this book is for you. If you love sociology and learning about research and find this sort of thing fascinating like I do, you’ll love this book.
Have you read The Design of Childhood? What stood out the most to you?