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Toy Story: Why Playing Is A Serious Business

Design students at Preshil are tackling the issue of children spending too much time looking at computer screens, shares Visual Art and Design Teachers Lewis Kingston and Fleur Fogarty.

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“We tend to downplay, play. As if it’s that frivolous, joyful thing that children do, but it’s really their whole world - it’s not just a game. It’s like the water they swim in. So free play, where there’s not a right or wrong answer, gives them this sense of ‘I can do it, I can think for myself.’ In Psychology we call it, agency or self-confidence. But it’s this idea that a child really feels like: ‘Hey I had an idea, and I did it.’ This then spurs on true learning.”
Tovah Klein
Barnard Centre for Toddler Development

This quote is from the documentary Design for Play, where the life and work of American toy designer, Cas Holman, is celebrated. Holman’s work became the inspiration and catalyst for the Year 8’s Design project this semester, where students are working on a unit called Toy Story

Statement of Inquiry:
Cultures have developed toys for purposeful play throughout history.

Design students tackled the issue of children spending too much time looking at computer screens. Students found that there is a lot of research that identifies the need for children to have less screen time and more chances for imaginative play. This type of play is necessary to improve problem solving skills and to develop parts of the brain that are not accessed when using digital devices or toys that provide limited chances for creative play. Students were tasked with designing a toy or game that encourages children (aged five to nine years) to be creative, through imaginative and collaborative play. Over the semester they have been designing toys that are engaging and promote opportunities for incidental learning. 

Students have discovered that it’s hard to distinguish ‘play from design.’ A lot of what we do in design is play and designers are constantly ‘playing’ with new ideas, testing out concepts or making objects. The process of design requires a deep understanding of how people move in space, handle objects and interact with each other. 

Students were encouraged to try and design with an experiential goal in mind and ask questions such as “what would this toy make you feel or think?” As you can imagine, there have been many silly moments throughout this unit and students in both classes have come up with some fantastic ideas and prototypes.

Prototypes of toys developed by the Year 8 students:

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