Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek said she thinks of herself as the “grand imaginer” of one of her most recent projects: Urban Thinkscape.
The goal of the project is to help increase Philadelphia children’s academic and social skills outside of the classroom in their routine environment. Hirsh-Pasek wants to develop public spaces as high-quality learning opportunities for children and increase parent engagement.
“It is literally bringing museum-like, interactive elements to the streets so that parents don’t have to go out of their way, so that it is right there for parents during their daily schedules and their already busy lives,” said Jacob Schatz, a research assistant in the psychology department. “They can have an educational, playful outlet for their children as well as themselves.”
Hirsh-Pasek, a professor in the psychology department, is leading the charge on the project, along with Brenna Hassinger-Das, a postdoctoral fellow in the psychology department. Schatz is also contributing to the initiative.
“Urban Thinkscape is a project that is designed to reimagine the cityscape into opportunities for playful learning,” Hassinger-Das said.
Hirsh-Pasek said children spend about 20 percent of their time awake in school. The other 80 percent, she added, is often spent participating in activities that are not engaging or educational.
The program is still in its early stages—there is an extensive design process that goes into reforming public spaces, like coordination with city officials, architects and the community.
“The idea here is to marry science with architecture,” said Hirsh-Pasek.
Although there are no official sites for the interactive areas yet, the goal is to place them at everyday locations with high traffic volumes or where people may have to wait for a period of time, like bus stops, supermarkets and doctors’ offices.
“It really is changing the cityscape,” said Hirsh-Pasek.
Urban Thinkscape hasn’t installed any interactive public spaces yet, but Hirsh-Pasek said she has a few ideas, like an interactive puzzle installed into the back of a bus bench.
“It is just making public spaces family-friendly and giving people access to these quality activities so they don’t have to make a special trip to the children’s museum,” Hassinger-Das said.
“I think the most beautiful thing and the most exciting thing about this project is that it hopes to inspire parents and children to interact together, and that is a huge problem in American culture today,” Schatz said. “Parents and children aren’t having these discussions, these dialogues that enrich children’s educational experiences.”
The group of developers is dependent upon the support and involvement of the community.
“We want to make sure that the community has a voice, that it is heard loud and clear and that the members of the community get to give a lot of input into what they want their community to look like,” Hirsh-Pasek said. “This is not about us, this is about building stronger communities with people who live in the neighborhoods.”
The group hopes to officially launch the program in about a year, Hirsh-Pasek said.
“Children in any community, children everywhere, should have an opportunity to engage in new and wonderful experiences that develop their executive function skills, that teach them content, that teach them creativity, that teach them critical thinking, and that expand upon their curiosities,” Schatz said.
Alexis Rogers can be reached at email@example.com.