Landscape Architect Meghan Talarowski Is Making Playgrounds Less Predictable—and Kids More Resilient

Plus, check out the best new products focused on inspiring creativity in children—from storytelling and bot building to music making.
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Meghan Talarowski thinks we should let kids fall down more often. The landscape architect, who leads Philadelphia’s Studio Ludo, designs playgrounds for a living and believes in a riskier‚ more open-ended version of play—picture higher climbing structures‚ faster‚ scarier slides‚ and more labyrinthine hideaways for getting lost.

"Part of play is learning how to navigate environments and our own bodies‚" she says. "We have to remember that breaking a bone is not a bad thing—it used to be a badge of honor."

Talarowski first developed her thesis in 2015 while living in London as a new mom‚ after she noticed the city’s playgrounds were less manicured than American ones. She applied her research background to finding out why and spent six months observing 18‚000 visitors across 16 playgrounds.

The study brought to light the formulaic nature of American playgrounds‚ which prioritize safety and therefore limit play to a controlled‚ linear exercise when research shows it’s anything but. "Play is full of anarchy‚" Talarowski says‚ but instead of encouraging that‚ "we spend a lot of time telling kids what to do and how to act."

Modern parental values also stress the importance of success at an increasingly young age; by kindergarten‚ anarchy has succumbed to achievement metrics. It’s a trend she views with alarm, pointing to research on "kindergarten burnout" that describes ways in which academic rigor may stifle young children. Free play, however, lets kids develop a sense of creativity and resilience.

While Talarowski can’t always convince clients to go along with her completely, she’s still able to get planners to agree that not everything needs to be as easily identifiable as a simple swing. For the Northwest Resiliency Park in Hoboken‚ New Jersey‚ she’s creating huge tree houses reached via ladder tunnels.

For an upcoming project in Omaha‚ she designed a fractured wooden deck-like structure covered in hammocks and bridges. Those expecting a traditional playground might find it confusing. If you ask Talarowski‚ that’s precisely the point.

Products to Inspire Childhood Creativity 

Loog Pro Electric Guitar

Designed for junior rock stars‚ Loog’s colorful guitars pare the instrument down to just three strings so kids can get comfortable with basic chords. A companion app comes with video lessons‚ a tuner‚ and a digital songbook.

The maestros of on-the-go audio equipment keep expanding their line of Pocket Operator music recording devices by releasing new iterations tricked out with voice and percussion sound samples.

Bring the outdoors inside with brightly hued paper bees and butterflies designed by Studio Roof in Amsterdam. Composed of recycled cardboard and vegetable ink‚ these insects double as 3-D puzzles and vibrant art for the wall.

If you’re questioning your little one’s screen time, swap out the iPad for Lunii’s My Fabulous Storyteller, a screen-free interactive gadget for listening to audio stories. Kids choose the hero, an object, and location; then Lunii spins a yarn.

Known for its diverse array of science and art kits‚ KiwiCo has created the Electronics 4-Pack. The bundle includes toys for the budding teenage engineer who wants to tinker with circuits and sensors and wind up with a working robot or laser projector.

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