Young Innovators

Sarah Reast, director and designer for Timberkits Ltd. takes a look at today’s smallest role models and how toy designers can take inspiration from play.
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How children explore the technical world fascinates me. Throughout my years as a designer I have observed them closely and am no closer to defining the whole process. 

What I do know is that it often seems somewhat anarchic but given the right material, each child will follow a logic of their own in some way. The problem is that a child’s logic is a very individual thing and cannot necessarily be described in a ‘one size fits all’ description.

This gives us toy designers a very challenging brief. If we look for common threads we end up with a rather anodyne middle of the way solution. If we leave it too open-ended, the toy will have no purpose. If we make it too challenging we risk defeat. With current emphasis on STEM and STEAM learning, this bears closer examination.

At Timberkits we make mechanical moving models sold in kit form. These tick a lot of boxes in the Key Stage Two Design Technology curriculum, they are not a toy as such but they are construction challenge and allow for a lot of creativity and fun.

I have spent hours simply watching children build our models, sometimes intervening to help and sometimes not. Often they will seem to be pursuing a route that I assume will end in disaster but then somehow opens up a whole new possibility I had never considered. 

I have been reminded of the importance of play in experimentation and that this is an aspect lost from education further down the line. I have observed my own children moan over endless worksheets, risk assessment charts and SWOT analyses that now form design and technology at school and wonder how any of it is ever going to inspire creativity. I accept that formal theory plays a part but often the play is pushed out, squashed and deflated.

The role that play parts in all sorts of experimentation is one of the reasons that girls fall behind boys as they reach the end of school. Without that little touch of anarchy and upside down inside out-ness, we don’t get to discover new things.

Let us champion our smallest designers and engineers and celebrate their random routes through play. Let them lead the way to future innovation before they grow out of it and before we forget to watch them.


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