What if the future of early-childhood education didn’t involve an iPad? What if, on the playground, movable blocks and ladders replaced fixed plastic slides and tubes? What if teachers acted more like guides and were less beholden to worksheets? School would be more like the creative process (rather than the counting-the-minutes crucible that many students experience) and the tools would look quite different: wooden play pieces, ropes and pulleys, nuts and bolts. That’s where Cas Holman comes in. Holman is the founder of the toy company Heroes Will Rise, a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, and one of six designers profiled in the second season of “Abstract: The Art of Design,” on Netflix. In the episode that features Holman, we get a glimpse of the educational future, as Chinese kindergartners, dressed for the rain in full-body yellow slickers, create a life-size version of a Hot Wheels track out of ladders and barrels, learning about coöperation, gravity, and momentum along the way.
Holman, who is forty-five, is best known as a member of the design team behind the Imagination Playground blocks: blue foam logs, bricks, arches, and chutes, some as big as a preschooler; they allow children to build their own playground and, in the process, practice teamwork. Since 2010, when the blocks were launched, in a park in lower Manhattan, they have spread to libraries, children’s museums, more parks, and schools in more than seventy countries. The blocks, which are bulky but lightweight, make it possible to set up play practically anywhere; the minute they hit the floor, the kids take over, creating their own world, with their own hands—not without some bickering. “The reason I design for children is I’m designing for people,” Holman said. “These are the people that are going to make the world suck or not suck. Good toys make good people.”