I loved playgrounds when I was little. I lived across the street from my elementary school, and frequently went to play on the playground it had. It wasn't that big, and I got used to it, so when we traveled across town to the other schools' playgrounds it was a big adventure. They were unknown and half of the fun was exploring them. Sometimes we even went to really big playgrounds that schools in other towns had.
Ultimately, what makes playgrounds awesome is that they're a place with no rules, and you have to invent them for yourself.
Playgrounds for Adults
Last summer I visited the Ontario Science Center, which features an area called the Weston Family Innovation Centre. While a somewhat vague name, the actual place is a giant room with all types of activities geared at people roughly ages 14 to 22. There's an area to take apart and put together electronics, making your own paper airplanes, comparing friction of different materials, and more. While it's full of "exhibits", most of them are entirely free-form and you have to figure out what you're going to do with it to play. Being presented with a set of tools and toys and having to figure out how you want to combine them is a very different experience than walking through a flat 2D museum.
Similarly, when I visit LEGO stores, I notice that it's just as often parents playing with the LEGOs as kids. Fathers and sons both build little cars out of LEGO and race them down a ramp, or bored parents put things together while their kids run around looking at all the different kits in the store. Opportunity in the form of supplies, but with no specified direction.
What Should I Make?
Lately I have been playing with an Arduino microcontroller. The Arduino sites defines an Arduino as "an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It's intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments." I borrowed a bunch of electronics parts (LEDs, resistors, a breadboard, connectors, etc) from my friend Brad and have been putting little things together to try out the different functions of the Arduino. So far I have replicated a red-yellow-green traffic light and written some stuff to a SerLCD I had laying around from last semester.
I am finding it lots of fun to make all these little things, but I am just doing it for fun. I have no class project, no goal I am trying to attain, and I don't know what I should make next. I am in a sandbox - what is the next cool thing to build? I'm going to keep poking at different things so I can figure out all of the Arduino's capabilities, but then I will probably bring it all together into some bigger project. Why? Why not.
No Rules, No Requirements
I feel like the major advantage to free form playing with ideas and tools is that everyone can put a different spin on what it is that they are making and doing. Everyone has a unique view on the world, and everyone finds different things fun. Giving people tools lets them do and lets them make. I like this concept, and want to try to figure out how to engage more people in this creative playing and making.
How can we build more sandboxes for "grown ups"?