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a closer look at the PLAY WORK BUILD digital interactive

May 10, 2013 in Featured Posts, Museums

by IP

 PLAY WORK BUILD-Credit_Kevin Allen

The Imagination Playground original digital interactive, part of the PLAY WORK BUILD exhibit at National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., was recently featured in the April issue of Metropolis Magazine. Highlighting the work of LAB at Rockwell Group in the article, Smart Building Blocks, the digital block wall was part of “A global roundup of innovative materials and systems from some of our best architects, designers, and engineers.” As Rockwell Group’s digital interaction design team, the LAB seeks to blur the lines between the physical and virtual, embedding technology into environments that create deeper and more valuable experiences.

Check out the write up below –

PLAY WORK BUILD in Metropolis-April-2013_Page_1

Rockwell Group’s hands-on exhibition at the National Building Museum, PLAY WORK BUILD, includes a set of its celebrated Imagination Playground construction toys, along with an interactive installation called DIGITAL BLOCKS. A Unity3D video game engine, openFrameworks software, and two Microsoft Kinect sensors are used in concert to allow museum-goers to manipulate oversize blocks projected onto a large wall. The sensors detect human forms, and people’s silhouettes appear, allowing the blocks to shift, stack, and topple in response to movement and gestures. The LAB at Rockwell Group, an interactive design team, worked to balance the technology’s sensitivity and reactivity, making the illusion as free-form and immersive as possible. PLAY WORK BUILD will remain on view through November 2014. –DM


PLAY WORK BUILD in Metropolis-April-2013_Page_2

National Building Museum and Imagination Playground partnered to open PLAY WORK BUILD in November 2012. The interactive exhibition combines the Museum’s Architectural Toy Collection with hands-on block play. On display through 2014, the family-friendly exhibition invites visitors of all ages to nurture their inner architect skills through Rockwell Group’s specially designed Imagination Playground installation.

To visit:



Imagination Playground play events popping up across the US

March 19, 2013 in Featured Posts, Museums, Newsletter, Play Events

by IP


February kicked off several Imagination Playground Playdates, on-going in select cities throughout the US. Starting with NYC’s 92nd Street Y on February 3rd, Imagination Playground participated in the Countdown to Camps event.


Our big blue blocks were out on the penthouse racquetball court. The clear open space and high white walls were a clean canvas for free play. Parents and children searching for a summer camp were invited to get a taste of the indoor and outdoor activities at 92Y Camp Yomi. Children delighted in building whimsical castles, forts, thrones, and cannons with the blocks. At the completion of the event, an Imagination Playground in a Cart set was donated to the 92nd Street Y.

On February 24th, Imagination Playground returned to the community center as special guests at the 92Y Bronfman Center’s Purim Carnival. Dressed in costume, children attending the event celebrated the Jewish holiday of Purim by hearing stories about the history. They also had the chance to build with the blocks and loose parts, using their imaginations to recreate their favorite parts of the story and constructing tunnels, temples, groggers and more.


Purim is commemorated with costumes, masquerades and carnivals.

Our Spring Playdates began on March 15th and 16th in a collaboration with Washington, D.C.’s National Building Museum. Over the course of two days, 140 parents, educators and children joined the unique Imagination Playground play sessions in the Museum’s educational rooms. The event space was directly across from the hugely popular PLAY WORK BUILD exhibit.

The playdates weren’t only for the children. Parents and educators were able to further learn about the benefits of free play, and connect with Imagination Playground President, David Krishock, and his team.

Continuing partnerships with area children’s museums and organizations, Imagination Playground is bringing block play to a neighborhood near you.

Here is where we are headed next:

Kohl Children’s Museum, Glenview, IL – March 21-23
Bay Area Discovery Museum, San Francisco CA  – April 19-20
92nd Street Y, New York NY  – April 20

We will also be participating in the following conferences:

10th Annual Young Child Expo & Conference 2013, New York, NY – April 19
Association of Children’s Museums Annual Conference 2013, Pittsburgh, PA – May 1-2


Want to know more about Imagination Playground Playdates and stay in the loop on upcoming events?

Email us at, and join us on Facebook.

blocks: building childhood and culture

February 21, 2013 in Featured Posts, Museums, Newsletter, Teachers

by IP

In her article, Blocks: Building Childhood and Culture, Amy F. Ogata looks at the enduring presence of blocks not just as a toy, but as a catalyst for children’s learning and growth. From the history of blocks to their variations over the years, many of the designs mentioned in the article can be experienced at the National Building Museum in PLAY.WORK.BUILD. The exhibition that opened in partnership with Rockwell Group has already seen over 22,000 attendees since its opening last November. 

The following is part of “Play Work Build: Essays on Constructive Toys” available in print at the museum gift shop in Washington, DC

The block is perhaps the most enigmatic of all children’s toys. A symmetrical shape with six flat sides, the block has long been the basic unit of both building and learning. It has endured as a signifier of childhood over more than three centuries, making it not just a severe and blank geometrical form but also a rich and culturally complex object.

Young children are often given blocks to stimulate cognitive understanding and to develop spatial skills. The history of the block is closely tied to this association between building and learning through play. In the late seventeenth century, the English philosopher John Locke advised covering a set of large dice with folio-sized printed letters to enhance the pleasure of learning the alphabet. Locke’s insight became a fundamental and long-lasting method of teaching. Early learning theories also recognized that the physical shape of the block itself, rather than a set of applied images, could enable a child’s sense of discovery. Friedrich Froebel, the early nineteenth-century German founder of the Kindergarten, included the cube along with the sphere and the cylinder as the most basic shapes of his pedagogical system.


ABC Picture Blocks, Milton Bradley Co., 1889
National Building Museum, Architectural Toy Collection

Trained in the study of crystals, Froebel used geometry in progressively complex arrangements to enhance physical manipulation, instill abstract thinking, and as a means of grasping the interconnectedness of man and nature. The solid wooden cube was one of the key elements in his system of “Gifts” and “Occupations” (he did not use the term “toys”), the teaching objects that a trained teacher presented sequentially to children to teach self-awareness and knowledge through manipulation.

Froebel’s unpainted wooden objects were devised in opposition to the colorful stone-like architectural blocks and forms, such as the Anker Steinbaukasten, that were popular in nineteenth-century middle-class German households. The plain wooden or unornamented block thus embodied a strongly pedagogical ideal in contrast to the fashionable amusement. And in this more utilitarian form, the block outlived Froebel’s rigid scheme to become a touchstone of twentieth-century early childhood education.

The block occupied a central position in American nursery school programs where it gained a reputation as the fundamental ingredient of open-ended experimental play.

Designs for Architectural Models No. 4 ½, Richters, c. 1909
National Building Museum, Architectural Toy Collection

In the early years of the twentieth century, Caroline Pratt developed a variety of wooden shapes she called Unit Blocks, a series of geometrical forms devised on a cohesive scale. Pratt put the unpainted wooden blocks she had made at the center of her teaching, first at a settlement house and then at a private nursery school in New York City. Along with other influential teachers of the time, she embraced the idea that free play with blocks gave children the materials to explore and test their ideas, and to develop an experimental outlook. The plainness and abstraction of the block, she and others argued, enabled children to enact and modify—on their own scale and on their own terms—the experiences of their daily lives. Teachers also stressed the productive social values of self-confidence, cooperation, and respect for the work of others that block building often required. Other block forms, such as hollow or open blocks that were lightweight but larger in scale pushed the possibilities of dramatic and imaginative play further.

In the mid-twentieth century, wooden blocks expanded beyond the rarified context of experimental schools to become ubiquitous equipment for early childhood education including some primary grades. Furthermore, manufacturers embraced the expressive ideal of the block to create a variety of forms for different ages. Young babies were given colorful cloth blocks that could be grasped, chewed, and tossed without harm. For older children, LEGO, the Danish building system based on interlocking plastic bricks, gave the activity of block-like building new appeal. Lightweight, portable, and infinitely expandable, LEGO bricks required deft manipulation and met the needs of young builders who were able to design and realize their fanciful visions. The legacy of block play that had begun in a much different era depended on the geometrical character of the block, but increasingly blocks were tied to the belief that open- ended play might produce a more thoughtful, cooperative, and curious person.

Today, the block persists as a motif of play for children and adults in the digital world. LEGO and MIT have developed software and hardware to create programmable bricks that animate creations assembled with LEGO. In the computer game Minecraft the basic square of the pixel is rendered as three- dimensional textured cubes of grass sod, diamond, lapis, wool, and many other materials to which one might apply a magical electrified material called “redstone” to engineer moving parts with the virtual blocks. The free creation of buildings, landscapes, machines, and even sound-scapes (with “note blocks”) extend
the same experimental culture of wooden blocks into the twenty-first century and well beyond the nursery school or public playground.

The flexibility of the block is part of its enduring appeal. Its sharp stackable forms are at once comfortingly familiar and infinitely abstract and mysterious. Although the block may seem to embody strict geometry, it is precisely this quality that enables expressive design. There is no doubt that the block is strongly romanticized as perhaps the most fundamental element of children’s play and a means to explore principles of balancing and building, as well as good citizenship and imagination. In this discourse, the block embodies the child’s own potential. Yet access to blocks is far from universal and even rarer is the time set aside to ponder, experiment, and design. It is worth remembering that the Dutch scholar Johan Huizinga theorized play as a key dimension of human culture. Playing with blocks may offer not only the production of culture on a small scale, but also the foundation for much larger contributions to our world.


Amy F. Ogata is Associate Professor at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City. She is the author of a book on Belgian Art Nouveau and many articles on modern architecture and design. Her forthcoming book, Designing the Creative Child: Playthings and Places in Midcentury America, published by the University of Minnesota Press will appear in Spring 2013.

Imagination Playground at the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans

From Thursday, January 31st – Saturday, February 2nd, Imagination Playground joined Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans  for several play events leading up to Super Bowl XLVII. The Museum’s campaign Places to Play explores the role of play in developing lifelong healthy habits for the city’s youngest residents, as well as combining play education with access to safe, creative play spaces.

During Thursday’s launch, the Louisiana Children’s Museum introduced their first Imagination Playground to the local New Orleans community. Children invited from Kingsley House Head Start and Early Head Start Preschool and Abeona House Child Discovery Center were eager to build with the new Imagination Playground blocks.


Showing their support, Dr. Karen DeSalvo (commissioner of New Orleans Health Department) and Laverne Saulny (Regional Manager for US Senator Mary Landrieu) were in attendance and spoke at a press conference during the event. The Imagination Playground and Rockwell Group team also led three Play Associate training sessions, walking through various dimensions of block play and child-directed free play, and preparing the Louisiana Children’s Museum team for many more successful play sessions to come.

Friday was another full day of active play at LCM. Staff tested their new skills as Play Associates, facilitating play as young visitors built furniture, buildings, a bus (complete with noodle seat belts!), curved pathways, and more with the blocks and loose parts.

The week’s events concluded in the “New Orleans Super Saturday of Service”, a co-sponsored event between the Louisiana Children’s Museum, Fit NOLA, the White House’s Let’s Move!, and NFL Play 60.  Promoting play in building healthy communities, the day provided improvements and renovations to five of the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission’s playgrounds. Imagination Playground was at the Lyons Field location, one of the five play spaces restored by the initiative. During an unveiling ceremony with Dr. Karen DeSalvo and council member LaToya Cantrell’s representative Mason Harrison, Imagination Playground and Louisiana Children’s Museum donated a second play set to the city for public use. As soon as the blocks were unpacked, families and children were quick to begin the fun, having a blast while building a variety of imaginative structures.

In speaking about Places to Play, Julia Bland CEO of the LCM, explained “We recognize that childhood obesity will not be eliminated until children and families are aware of their health habits and can turn that awareness into behavioral changes with daily exercise and activity – as individuals or as a family. Offering our four-year-olds a chance to share their ‘play places,’ and documenting the experience through their artwork, stories and photography, will help increase awareness and active lifestyles.”

To read more on the Louisiana Children’s Museum’s Places to Play in New Orleans initiative, visit the Let’s Move! blog >>

Opening of National Building Museum’s PLAY.WORK.BUILD.

December 5, 2012 in Museums, Newsletter, Play Events, United States

by IP

Since its opening almost three weeks ago, PLAY WORK BUILD has been a success among adults and children alike. The National Building Museum teamed up with Imagination Playground to showcase the Museum’s unique Architectural Toy Collection alongside hands-on block play. The family-friendly exhibition invites visitors of all ages to nurture their inner architect skills through Rockwell Group’s specially designed Imagination Playground installation and an original digital interactive.

Students from D.C.’s Two Rivers Public Charter School delighted in building mini constructions, collaborating together on the Imagination Playground 3-D wall, and knocking virtual blocks down. The school has been a great supporter of Imagination Playground since receiving its Imagination Playground in a Box courtesy of a grant from KaBOOM! in 2009. Two Rivers educator, Kathleen Kennedy told USA Today, “There are no steps here. … When you’re playing a computer game, there’s an answer, but with blocks you have to figure it out as you go along.”

Students from the Two Rivers Public Charter School play with Imagination Playground blocks and the digital block wall in the National Building Museum’s exhibition PLAY WORK BUILD. Photos by Kevin Allen.

Check out what others have to say about the exhibition…

Play Work Build chronicles the history of active play in the most appropriate way possible: by asking visitors to actually play the games. –Fast Company’s Co.Design

Collaborative activity, physical movement, and no resemblance to a typical playground are the three major themes of this endeavor, whether it be on a big a scale as the one at the Building Museum or the portable version of these blocks made for schools and camps. –Curbed DC

PLAY WORK BUILD is both an extension and an elaboration on one of the museum’s primary missions, to introduce children to the building process. The second-floor gallery is now overrun by thousands of pieces of blue foam, some sized for building models and some sized to build forts. –The Washington Post On Parenting

Play Work Build will be open at the National Building Museum through 2014, so stop by and experience it for yourself! Do you have some excellent images of your block building day? Don’t forget to share your photos with the National Building Museum and Imagination Playground on Twitter and Instagram by hashtagging #blocktastic  – we would love to hear from you.

National Building Museum’s exhibition PLAY.WORK.BUILD.

November 8, 2012 in Museums, Play Events, United States

by IP

On November 18th, the National Building Museum and Imagination Playground will present PLAY.WORK.BUILD. – an interactive exhibition combining the Museum’s unique architectural toy collection with hands-on block play. Designed by Rockwell Group, the exhibition will explore connections between early examples of imaginative play and its modern day interpretations.  Vintage toys on display from the Museum’s vast collection range from the Original Froebel® Blocks, early Erector sets to Tinker Toys, and Lincoln Logs®.

Families will be able to test their building skills in a variety of scales. One gallery will feature tables of foam blocks in different shapes and sizes, and in the following gallery, hundreds of large-scale blocks will allow visitors to reconfigure their environment. The final gallery showcases an original interactive installation of virtual block play created by the LAB at Rockwell Group. Whether visitors choose the small or large blocks or the virtual block-play experience, children and adults alike will join in on creative, open-ended play.

“Blocks have always been a fundamental element of play, and were greatly inspirational to Imagination Playground. We are thrilled to work with the National Building Museum and to create a unique indoor play space within the historical context of construction and block play,” said David Rockwell. “Play—for children and adults—cannot be affirmed enough.”

For more information visit

MoMA symposium: the child in the city of play: growing by design

October 25, 2012 in Museums

by IP

On October 19, the Museum of Modern Art hosted The Child in the City of Play: Growing by Design, a symposium held in conjunction with the museum’s current exhibition, Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900-2000, on view through November 5. Read the rest of this entry →

families explore creative play at the delaware aerospace education foundation

October 12, 2012 in Museums, Play Events

by IP

Delaware AeroSpace Education Foundation (DASEF) in Smyrna recently unveiled their Imagination Playground to children and parents visiting the September Family Day event.
Looks like an inspiring day of building! Children raced to finish different challenges with the blocks and proudly presented their designs to the community. Thank you to the team at DASEF for the firsthand account below.
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Imagination Playground at the Grand Rapids children’s museum

August 29, 2012 in Childrens' Museums, Featured Sites, Museums

by IP

In celebration of its 15th anniversary, the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum hosted a birthday party for the entire Grand Rapids community on July 17.

Instead of expecting gifts on this momentous occasion, the museum decided to give back to the community by premiering a new Imagination Playground exhibit for all to enjoy.

Some of the first playmates to join in the fun were Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss, museum board members and employees, as well as hundreds of kids – all of whom were eager to unwrap the new equipment and their imaginations!

Since the premiere, the museum staff has been hard at play creating new activities and programming around Imagination Playground.

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imagination playground goes to europe with a 9-city tour of exhibitions and play dates

May 29, 2012 in Museums

by IP

Imagination Playground kicked off its European tour with the launch of a special exhibition “Playspaces: Imaginative and Immersive Environments by Rockwell Group”  at Architekturgalerie München and a play event at Munich’s Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen on May 12.

The exhibition highlights the evolution of Imagination Playground and the inspirations that brought the innovative playspace to life.

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