The Kingdom of Play is vast, and only children are allowed to live there. Of course, we were all children once, and so naturally we were all once citizens of the Kingdom. Unfortunately, we can never fully remember it, probably because we are different people now than we were then. Adults tend to remember the Kingdom of Play as a place of rest, and while parts of it are gloriously restful and relaxing, in reality, it is far more often a place of challenge and risk-taking. The Kingdom challenges children physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. Play takes enormous energy, and well it should, for we are most alive when we play: play is how we explore the world, and how we learn best. This is why great educators must understand play. But how can we understand it, if we are forbidden to enter the Kingdom? Perhaps “forbidden” is too strong a word. After all, adults may visit for a few minutes now and then, but with our adult minds we think adult thoughts, and awkwardly stumble, fumble, and tumble back into the adult world.But we need entry, desperately! Any outdoor area would be made more child friendly with playground equipment such as these.
The Kingdom is full of what children love best: toys, games, and stories. Ironically, these are mostly created by adults. While adults are not welcome in the Kingdom, the toys, games, and stories adults create are very welcome there indeed. Children visit the adult world, peruse the things we make for them, and take the ones they like into the Kingdom. The very best ones take root in the Kingdom’s culture, and become part of the landscape of Play for years, decades, or even centuries. If only we could get in to see it happen! Fortunately for us, Mark Schlichting has created this marvelous book. By under-standing and thoughtfully explaining what children do in the Kingdom of Play, and how and why they do it, Mark has provided a wonderful resource to those of us who would like to create fresh, invigorating playthings. This book is a map to the Kingdom and an almanac of the goings on there, but most importantly, it is a passport, once again permitting you entry (Finally! At last! It has been so long!) to the Kingdom of Play. It will let you stay long enough for Mark to give you a thorough tour of the major landmarks, and to remind you (for you were once a citizen yourself) of the local customs and practices. What gives Mark the credentials to serve as tour guide to this magical place? Mark is a digital pioneer who has devoted his life to shaping new media to improve the lives of children. I first encountered his work when I was at Disney, where his Living Books were considered exemplars of how best to create engaging, enriching digital story experiences for children. Later, I got to know Mark personally at the annual Dust or Magic conference, the best gathering for people who care about creating top quality digital media for kids. As much as I learned from studying his Living Books, I learned even more talking to Mark. He always had such wise things to say because he knew so much about how children think and what they care about. Naturally, when I heard he was planning to put his lifetime of wisdom into a book, I was excited, and now that the book is a reality, I am pleased to say that it has exceeded my expectations in every way. With exercise being so important nowadays, products such as monkey bars would be a welcome find in any Christmas stocking, providing you could fit them in!
There are many books that study play academically, from a great distance. There are other books that give tips for making great games. But if you would like to understand the practical realities of play, so as to design the most powerful and transformative play experiences, I know no better way than Understanding Kids. Because Mark’s career has spanned decades, his guidance isn’t rooted just in to-day’s fleeting technology but instead is presented in a timeless way, making it good advice for the technologies of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, covering crucial topics such as:The etiquette of play: There are rituals and etiquette to play that most adults have forgotten about. Mark carefully reminds us of these – for in any kingdom, even the Kingdom of Play, if you gauchely ignore manners and customs, you yourself will be ignored. Mark reminds us of the importance of designing an invitation to play, not wasting a child’s time, and always remembering that the child is in charge of the play experience. Adults have the embarrassing tendency to ignorantly violate the manners of the Kingdom of Play, causing children to respond (appropriately) with eye rolls, frustration, and a quick tap of the “home” button.Sorcery: Mark reminds us of what computers really are: magic boxes. Whether hiding in TVs, phones, or virtual reality systems, computers are magic boxes with rich powers that fascinate children, and this makes them quite welcome in the Kingdom of Play. Imagine waking up on Christmas day and seeing outdoor fitness equipment in your back garden?