Manufacturing fun (another missive from the pool)

So this pool I go to, to count laps, was built a couple years ago, I’d guess, and it’s a good example of how play has changed. Except for a few lanes, it’s a water “funderland”—a place designed to be fun but so over-designed as to get in the way of fun. There are water spouts, and a winding river bit with jets that smash you into the rough walls, and built-in buckets and water pipes and what I do admit is a really great waterslide.

It may be I’m simply jealous that I can’t really “play” with all this stuff without renting a child or suffering funny looks from the lifeguards, but it seems to me that the kids in the pool are actually hampered in their play by all this stuff. Because just like Lego sets that are designed to make only one toy, or dolls that already have names, backstories, and their own movies, this pool actually limits the options for kids’ imaginations.

I remember spending hours in a big, rectangular, blank canvas of a pool as a kid. We made up dozens of games using only each other and maybe a raft and some rocks. That pool was an empty stage. This new pool is a stage set for one particular play, and once you’ve done that play a few times, it’s old. It wouldn’t surprise me if the particularizing of toys has contributed to the shortening of attention spans. It seems there’s less and less places left where kids can use their imaginations: open spaces are filled with designated ball fields and play “equipment,” games are managed and organized by adults, toys are made to do one thing (and then break). I’m sure the designers of all these things feel they are doing it “for the children,” but if we want our children to develop imagination and creativity and problem-solving, maybe we should stop “helping” them play so much.