NEW YORK — In 1888, the psychologist Stanley Hall published a story about a sand pile. A minor classic, it describes how a group of children created a world out of a single load of sand. These children were diligent, they were imaginative, they were remarkably adult.
More than a century later, at the architect David Rockwell’s Imagination Playground in lower Manhattan, small humans scurry back and forth all day long, carrying Rockwell’s oversized blue foam blocks from self-devised task to self-devised task. These children are intent, they are cooperative, they are resourceful. The scene resembles nothing so much as Stanley Hall’s sand pile — with each grain of sand much bigger and much bluer. (Except for the bits of actual sand, that is.)
More than any playground in recent memory, the Imagination Playground has inspired an outburst of excitement. It’s a hit with the hip parents who take their kids to Dan Zanes concerts, and is just as crowded as one.
But it also represents something much more mundane: the triumph of loose parts. After a century of creating playgrounds for children, of drilling swing sets and plastic forts into the ground, we have come back to children creating their own playgrounds. Loose parts — sand, water, blocks — are having a moment.