Watching my 8 year old play with lego was interesting yesterday while off school with tonsillitis. While her bedroom is big enough to play in and houses a lot of her toys; she instead chose and in fact always chooses to play in a sun-room off the kitchen. In the same spot; on the same smaller version of a kitchen table. In fact I have noticed lately that the 11 year old automatically drifts to there now too every evening. Whether that be for homework or crafting she spends the last few minutes of her day re-arranging her pencil case and school bag for the next day on said table
I remember when I was growing up we played in the living room or kitchen table too, although with 4 brothers engaged in various sporting feats and lego, space was really a premium commodity. Nobody played in their bedrooms; they were purely for sleeping.
With the advent of all things digital our definition of space in the home has become altered and somewhat changed forever. Playrooms are becoming a thing of the past for a lot of families as devices get smaller, kids find smaller nooks in which to plonk themselves down to game, swipe or watch.
I heard of a young child recently with a flat screen TV larger than our main (and sole) TV in her bedroom and now adds a swanky phone complete with full internet connectivity. Her room has become a virtual digital fortress and her parents have excelled themselves by completely isolating her from the rest of the family. How intentional is this I wonder?
Sure, my kids play on tablets and they've been know to play them in their bedrooms, but they absolutely have to be where the action is all of the time; usually the kitchen. Believe me I have tried to contain the overflowing toy baskets, indoor tents and multiple dolls prams but they just don't want to be out of earshot in a back room or bedroom for that matter. They want to be able to see what's going on and interact with whomever is in the kitchen at any given time. In our quest for digital dominance have we overlooked the other functions of the kitchen; where children experiment with making playdough, spend seemingly forever doing homework, or the moody teenager passing an hour inspecting the fridge and presses, eating and chatting in the process (whoever said you can't get a problem aired with a teen while their head is stuck in the fridge clearly hasn't tried it yet).
I think that our humble kitchen table needs to be re-instated as one of the most important pieces of furniture ever made. We need to make sure that every child is sitting at it at some point of the day; even if it is with that device in their hands. Peel the spuds, hell even if your laptop is there from time to time, the most important thing is that there is life there and conversation. I wonder how much the art of conversation will be affected in years to come; we may be able to do everything digitally, but nothing will ever replace a face to face conversation.
So, back to the 8 year old who finally made the new lego she proudly bought herself. I noted that she stood for over 2.5 hours engrossed in the assembly of the new Lego Amusement Park. Sure, she went in search afterwards for her iPad; but not before she gave me a detailed tour of the park and I had to join in. It may not have been a stimulating adult conversation, but us adults forget sometimes how to play make-believe and in that small space on that kitchen table we brought life to the room and a little bit of Tramore amusements to our home.
Karen Douglas is a partner in Buro www.buroarchitecture.com