The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids

Alexandra Lange. Bloomsbury, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-1-63286-635-6
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. Agent: Joe Veltre, Gersh Agency. (June)

Correction: The author's agent was incorrectly listed on a previous version of this review.

Reviewed on: 03/05/2018
Release date: 06/01/2018
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