This is a welcome addition to a genre of scholarly research that explores the nature and history of childhood play. The author is a well-published critic of human-constructed architectural environments. This most recent book explores the “Design of Childhood.” Much of it is historical, identifying the principles that underlie the ebb and flow how adults (for better or worse) have designed material environments and toys (large and small) for children since the early twentieth century. Chapter titles reveal much about its foci: Blocks, House, School, Playground, and City. One of the over-riding themes is the observation that, since the late 20th century, adults have been over-protecting children and thereby undermining their independence, creativity, and social development. By the authors own admission, the book is intended to be more descriptive (facts) than prescriptive (values), which is mostly true. But at least some critics will argue that this emphasis resulted in wishy-washy prescriptive conclusions, as evident in its final sentences, which urge us to learn from the past in order to “make childhood a better place.” Nevertheless, this is an important addition to a rapidly expanding genre that has largely ignored design issues.
Reviewed for Choice Magazine by: Ronald F. White, Ph.D.