Specialty toys & gifts
How Play Works Sandbox@MIT explores ways research can help kids play better. by WENDY SMOLEN, senior vice president, Sandbox Events, and playpublisher, PlayScience RESEARCH HAS SHOWN THAT HAVING A playful learning environment is key to engaging kids, regardless of age or learning style. PlayScience’s annual Sandbox@MIT, themed The ROI of Play, looked at ways current research enables both big and small companies to create effective and fun learning experiences. Thought leaders in the business of play presented proven ways that play enhances learning, how to design and develop engaging products and experiences, and why we need to be mindful of the types of play we promote to attendees from more than 115 diverse companies. Play is how all kids learn both in and out of the classroom, but there’s no one-sizefits-all method. Technology has spurred the development of customized learning tools, as
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well as open-ended toys and games such as littleBits and Minecraft. Companies, such as Discovery Education, have created successful programs in schools using digital tools to empower both students and teachers. However, as technology becomes more prevalent in all aspects of kids’ lives, there are new questions and gaps that need to be addressed in the play research. Dr. J. Alison Bryant, co-CEO of PlayScience, and Dr. David Bickham, research scientist at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Center on Media and Child Health, are involved in studies that examine how different modes of play determine a child’s developmental outcome. They admit that research is frequently one-dimensional, testing a single factor of engagement, rather than seeing it in context.
According to Elizabeth Rood, Ed.D., vice president of Education Strategy at the Center for Childhood Creativity, IQ and spatial skills are traits that are twice as heritable as creativity. The environment in which play occurs is a huge factor in the developmental result. Researching kids’ and their parents’ play patterns and gathering data effectively also requires a multi-method approach. Bryant stressed the importance of assessing play from simultaneous viewpoints. Where, how, and with whom a child plays is as critical as with what he is playing. A well-rounded picture of how kids and families are engaging may include in-home observation, time-lapse photo analysis, and diaries parents keep on mobile devices. Bryant uses a PlayMatrix, which is an original fusion of content, context, audience, platform, form factor, and pedagogy. “We need to rethink our models of understanding play—and our approaches—so that we can use better insights when creating products and services that can have the greatest impact,” she says. Bickham’s current Project Genesis, #MorePlayToday, a collaboration with Hasbro, focuses on giving relevant information on play to parents, also considering the products and environments that have the most positive outcomes. One of the fundamental research gaps that the experts identified is actually defining what constitutes 21st century play. As digital play gains in importance, as well as in time spent, new questions arise. RJ Mical, head of games at Google, set forth the theory that computers, which were originally created for work, have now gotten more advanced because of play. He believes that people play because
Many of us are traveling to Denver for the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association’s (ASTRA’s) Marketplace & Academy trade show, and in...