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Designing the Creative Child

Designing the Creative Child: Playthings and Places in Midcentury America

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Designing the Creative Child
    Book Description:

    The postwar American stereotypes of suburban sameness, traditional gender roles, and educational conservatism have masked an alternate self-image tailor-made for the Cold War. The creative child, an idealized future citizen, was the darling of baby boom parents, psychologists, marketers, and designers who saw in the next generation promise that appeared to answer the most pressing worries of the age. Designing the Creative Child reveals how a postwar cult of childhood creativity developed and continues to this day. Exploring how the idea of children as imaginative and naturally creative was constructed, disseminated, and consumed in the United States after World War II, Amy F. Ogata argues that educational toys, playgrounds, small middle-class houses, new schools, and children's museums were designed to cultivate imagination in a growing cohort of baby boom children. Enthusiasm for encouraging creativity in children countered Cold War fears of failing competitiveness and the postwar critique of social conformity, making creativity an emblem of national revitalization. Ogata describes how a historically rooted belief in children's capacity for independent thinking was transformed from an elite concern of the interwar years to a fully consumable and aspirational ideal that persists today. From building blocks to Gumby, playhouses to Playskool trains, Creative Playthings to the Eames House of Cards, Crayola fingerpaint to children's museums, material goods and spaces shaped a popular understanding of creativity, and Designing the Creative Child demonstrates how this notion has been woven into the fabric of American culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3924-7
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xxii)

    ARNOLD GESELL, the influential twentieth-century pediatrician and child-development psychologist, believed that “by nature” the child was “a creative artist of sorts. . . . We may well be amazed at his resourcefulness, his extraordinary capacity for original activity, inventions, and discovery.”¹ Such awe at the child’s apparently innate creativity has its roots in the romantic era, and has not only persisted but also expanded in our own age. Indeed, authentic creativity has become an unquestioned “truth” about children and childhood. At large retailers, as in small toy stores and online merchants, there are entire aisles or sections of “creativity toys”....

    (pp. 1-34)

    THE NOTION OF THE CREATIVE CHILD emerged in earlier generations as an educational and artistic ideal, but it was newly constructed and commodified as an aspect of middle-class culture with the rapid population expansion of the baby boom after World War II. The years after the war have been called “child-centered” for the huge numbers of children born during the largest extended baby boom in U.S. history. In 1947, 3.8 million babies were born to American parents. This number reached 4 million every year from 1954 to 1964. These 76.4 million children born between 1946 and 1964 were significant in...

    (pp. 35-70)

    THE HEIGHTENED FOCUS on children owing to the baby boom stimulated a national debate over child rearing and encouraged both sharp public interest in education and unprecedented spending on children. In addition to buying new parenting guides and magazines advocating techniques for raising a healthy, well-adjusted child, postwar parents spent record sums on amusements. In 1954, a trade organization estimated that the American toy industry brought in a billion and a quarter dollars annually, and during that Christmas season, families purchased an average of nine toys per household.¹ These numbers increased some 67 percent in the 1960s alone.² Toys such...

    (pp. 71-104)

    THE EDUCATIONAL-TOY INDUSTRY emphasized the creative potential of playing with blocks, cards, and other construction toys. Although these were age-old favorites of the middle-class toy box, in the years after World War II the act of building itself acquired new relevance. One of the biggest problems facing postwar reconstruction was housing. A severe shortage throughout the Depression and limited wartime building made housing a pressing social and architectural issue. Returning GIs, a rising birthrate, and an increasing demand led to the Housing Act of 1949, which promised a decent home for all Americans but disproportionately benefited middleclass suburban families with...

    (pp. 105-146)

    THE RISING POPULATION of young American children made school building, together with housing, the most widely discussed architectural challenge after World War II. High prices and scarcity of materials during the Depression and wartime had left few possibilities for renovating or even maintaining older structures, much less constructing new schools. Furthermore, the population migration to areas in the West and to developing suburban towns created a need where there was little existing provision for school-age children and nothing that could match their ever-growing numbers.¹ Enrollment in U.S. elementary and secondary schools was 25.1 million during the 1949–50 school year....

    (pp. 147-186)

    THE DISCOURSE OF CREATIVITY rephrased the progressive ideal of teaching through hands-on projects, which was written into the postwar public elementary schools through outdoor yards and self-contained classrooms with long counters and sinks. In these newly built institutions, special rooms for art, science, and shop put spatial and educational emphasis on teaching children to become productively creative. Yet if new elementary school architecture only appeared to reinforce creativity as an educational value, shifts in art instruction after World War II fully assimilated childhood creativity into the curriculum. Champions of manual training and progressive education who believed that firsthand experience gave...

    (pp. 187-194)

    CREATIVITY, IN THE POSTWAR IMAGINATION, implied individual thought and action, and was widely considered a fundamentally human and democratic quality. If, as many suggested, childhood creativity was an untapped natural resource, then it could be cultivated, harvested, and consumed, making the creative child both a sentimental and a strategic figure. The project of the creative child was, and still is, the dream and the work of adults.¹ As a group of educational psychologists observed in 1967, “We are all potentially creative, but only those who have become creative realize it. One of the best ways to cultivate our own creativity...

    (pp. 195-198)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 199-238)
    (pp. 239-280)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 281-294)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-296)
  15. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)