This Urban Design Project Encourages Kids to Learn Through Play

Research shows that playing – especially at an early age – helps children to develop their capabilities better. But children have less and less time to play. The kindergartens often have structured programs that do not allow much time for play. Parents often don’t have time to play with children because of all the errands that need to be done after a busy day at work.

How urban design can help?

The Urban Thinkscape project aims to give children more opportunities to playuse their creativity and interact with each other and their parents by means of urban design. The Urban Thinkscape is led by developmental psychologists Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Brenna Hassinger-Das, and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff. They hired designer Itai Palti to make four different game installations. Each is intended to stimulate children’s brains in a different way. The installations encourage the children to interact with other people, use their imagination, be creative and improve spatial and math skills.

Image: One of Urban Thinkspace installations (source).

The Urban Thinkscape Pilot

The Urban Thinkscape pilot program was launched in October 2017 in Belmont neighborhood, West Philadelphia. The neighborhood was chosen because there live a lot of poor people that can not afford to pay for extra education and stimulation of their children. In addition, if parents are worried because of their financial situation and unstable jobs, they are less likely to engage with their kids. The installations can serve as a prompt to parents to play and connect with the kids. Because this can be done while running errands or waiting for a bus, playing can be easily included in the daily life.

The results of the project are encouraging. A team of locals was asked to observe the interactions between parents and their children before and after the Urban Thinkscape installations were put in place. The observers noticed that the installations prompted the kids and their parents to talk and engage more than before. That helps the families to connect and the children to develop better.

The goal of Urban Thinkscape, as Palti says, is to “start designing for a difference measure of success – a measure of success that is based on the human.” Urban design and planning should be done in a way that helps people who live in urban spaces to thrive.

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