Designing play for young children is much more difficult than most people realize. Difficult, that is, if you want it to work for the children and to be safe for them, as well. Children change dramatically in their size, skills and interests in just a few years. For example, a 3-year-old has a median height of 37 inches (94 cm), whereas a 7-year-old's height is 48 inches (122 cm). That presents serious challenges for designing play events and equipment that will work for both ages.
We have to custom-design almost all of the play equipment for children's edutainment centers and at-home mom cafés (see above story) we develop for clients. We have learned that despite all the anthropometric data and experience we have observing children in play and other environments, children can behave in unexpected ways with only the smallest change in the environment's design. So we prototype any new equipment designs and test them with children to make sure we will get the behavior the equipment is designed to create.
Recently we designed a miniature train table for the edutainment dining room at our client's new StoneFire Pizza Co. in the Milwaukee area (see eatertainment story below). We created a prototype so we could test it with children. Well, we were surprised, but not shocked, when the theoretical table height that should work didn't. At the original designed height, younger children were actually climbing over the table to get into a hole in the center. They were supposed to climb under the table to access the hole, or so we thought. We modified the table height by just two inches and the children behaved as planned. As they say, the devil is in the details.