In this era of intense technology consumption, particularly among young people, there’s all manner of conversation going on – at home, in schools, at the workplace – about how to manage it in the name of establishing healthy balance.
Forward-thinking companies are seeing ways to address the issues surrounding young people and technology and seeing another avenue that doesn’t so much limit technology as leverage it, in the form of EdTech toys, that serve to bring the maker spirit and innovation to how young people engage with tech. End game: inspiring a new generation of makers and innovators, where toys teach the skill sets needed to create rather than simply consume modern technology.
EdTech Toys Engage Children, Inspire Maker Spirit: Innovation, Imagination, Creativity
Makers are teachers, entrepreneurs, professionals, students, DIY hobbyists or simply tinkerers in their own garage. What unites all of these individuals is the maker spirit – a fascination with creating, often utilizing various means of technology.
The Maker Movement maintains that we are all makers. Particularly given that today, almost half of all Canadians identify as being part of the maker community, regardless age or gender.
When you consider the focus that STEM/STEAM education has recently taken this number should come as no surprise. Schools are looking to the maker community, which successfully incorporates inquiry-based and active learning (learning-by-doing) as part of the maker philosophy, to inform their classrooms and teaching techniques, particularly when it comes to attracting students who have become disengaged by formal educational settings.
More and more schools and community centres are beginning to convert spaces into active maker spaces to encourage exploration and experimentation with technology. Makerspaces and Maker Faires are cropping up in communities from coast-to-coast and across the globe, promoting a DIY mentality and innovative, maker spirit.
At the heart of the maker movement is an ideology that innovation should be collaborative, fun and based on exploration. In this vein, new opportunities are being explored by forward-thinking companies, launching EdTech oriented activities and toys geared specifically to teach these skill sets to inspire a new generation of innovators.
For example, one company called Infento has developed the world’s first kit for families that lets them build real constructible rides together using simple modular parts. The building process is designed like a game, with the first task being the construction of a simple toolbox made out of cardboard that teaches children all of the different pieces. From there, a family would decide which ride they want to create and use online instructions to start building.
The name Infento is a combination of two Latin words: “infinitus” (infinite) and “planto” (to make). When pronounced, the name sounds like “invent,” which is exactly what Infento hopes families will be inspired to do with this collaborative experience.
Infento’s newest Kickstarter campaign enables families to use only one kit and one hex key to create a huge range of rides, from walkers and scooters for toddlers all the way up to go-karts, skibocks and sledges for teens.
Similarly, Nintendo released a modular kit called the Nintendo Labo that enables young people to create interactive gaming elements for the Switch out of cardboard. Options include a miniature piano, a fishing pole, a robot and even a motorbike. However, the best part of these accessories is that they help children to understand how these elements function.
A third toy that is finding itself more and more often listed alongside Raspberry Pi and Arduino is the Makey Makey. This handy gadget can turn everyday objects into computer input touchpads, so, for instance, a banana becomes the space bar.the
It’s a simple invention kit for beginners and experts doing art, engineering, and everything in between. This is a kit that teaches young people how to use alligator clips to add connectivity and conductivity to everyday objects like bananas and donuts to create music, touchpads, interactive maps and more.
Makey Makey inspires children to come up with their own designs, all while teaching them basic principles of electrical engineering and coding.
The advancement of toys such as these are indicative of an important shift in thinking for the younger generations. Rather than being passive consumers of technology, young people turn into active creators, developing creativity and skills in true maker fashion.
Organizations like the XPRIZE Foundation recognize the value of this out-of-the-box thinking and have even begun incentivizing young people to put their innovation skills to the test. Most recently, the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE announced a challenge for students between the ages of 12 and 18 to “Design a Deep-Sea Treasure” that could be placed on the ocean floor to help map the final frontier on the earth. Winners can earn up to $2,000 cash and another $5,000 for their supporting school or organization.
Innovative Maker Companies Returning Childhood to Its Hands-on Roots
While there are still many valid reasons to be concerned, as parents, about our kids’ experience with technology, it’s reassuring to see companies leveraging it to encourage active rather than passive engagement.
Looking to employ the maker spirit in their toys and games, innovative companies are incorporating technology while actually drawing on old school roots encouraging exploration, discovery, creativity, and collaborative play.
Reigniting a joy of learning, building skills, inspiring ideas and collaboration; empowering kids to dive in and get their hands dirty, have fun, developing the skills they need to make technology work for them, not the other way around.