Stream powered: Entering a new era of toys

As STEM toys start to enter a new sector of art and robotics, Damien Murtagh, founder of the model building system Arckit, reveals why it is crucial to inspire and educate the next generation of creators.
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In recent years there has been a demand for STEM toys that build children’s developmental skills in the areas of science, technology, engineering and maths. Now we have STEAM, which includes art. Next, we’re entering the STREAM era (the R stands for robotics). Is this too much to expect from one product, or can toymakers tick all of the boxes?

The New York Toy Fair predicted that the trend for STREAM toys would increase throughout this year. From what I can see, entrepreneurs around the world – and especially in my home country of Ireland – are rising to the challenge and pulling out all the stops when it comes to innovation.

As the inventor of a gender-neutral educational product used in schools and universities, I am often asked what makes a good STREAM toy. Well, I believe it’s about designing an experience that encourages collaborative, hands-on and imaginative play. These days, educational products must be fun to make a difference.

Arckit wasn’t originally intended for education. I developed the system as a professional tool to replace traditional ‘cut and glue’ models used by architects. The idea came from a real modular building system that I was working on for my architectural practice. It wasn’t until later that I realised Arckit was a powerful tool for teaching design.

The turning point came when we created an official Education Programme. Giving the product a focus was the key to using Arckit in a STEAM context. Since then, educators such as TechAge Kids have used Arckit as a platform for innovation by applying additional electronics and technology. We’re huge advocates of this ‘open source’ approach to expressing creativity.

Toymakers don’t necessarily need to tick all of the boxes of STREAM to make a difference in schools. Instead, they should think about one single issue that they want to address and put their energy into that. Our mission hasn’t changed. We want to inspire and educate the next generation of creators.

Our next challenge is to develop a new product that opens up the world of architecture to an even younger audience. The new kits will be available on Kickstarter from May 10th. I believe that crowdfunding will be massive for the toy industry over the next few years. It’s removing the barrier to entry and encouraging more entrepreneurs to come forwards with innovative ideas for the STREAM community. This can only be a good thing.

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