Monday, December 24, 2012

Toys toys toys

I'm developing a new project called Make Better Stuff, a series of toy-making workshops in which students design and build their own toys while learning social skills like teamwork, user interaction, and empathy. I've been thinking a lot about toys--about who designs them, who builds them (not elves), who plays with them, and how the design of a toy affects people in different ways.

Toys are designed by grown ups. Many of these designers work for firms who aim for high sales and low production costs. Then there are those who assemble toys, often foreign laborers who’ve moved away from their families to make money to send home, who might take a few night classes to try to move up in their careers. Then there are the recipients of these toys: kids who play with them. Different types of toys encourage different types of play.

A ball for example encourages a shared experience. It can be a competitive experience as in basketball, in which the goal of each player is to score for their own team and prevent the other team from scoring. Or it can be a collaborative experience, as in a game of catch, in which both parties want to toss the ball back and forth just because it feels good--that experience sounds and smells good too.

There are toys that encourage strict adhesion to the rules, such as a coloring book. And there are toys that encourage exploration and creativity, such as legos. (Even though they are marketed and sold in kits, they still end up in one big bin that kids make all kinds of fabulous creations with.)

But you know what there aren’t enough of? Toys designed by kids. So I look forward to exploring toy-design with kids. I’d like to know what they think about toys: the relationships that toys promote and how kids might create toys that make their own lives better. Sounds like fun, right?

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