I am thrilled to be attending the upcoming Sandbox Summit next week at MIT! Now in its third year, this conference brings together innovators in children’s media, books, toys, virtual worlds, and education to explore the impact that emerging media platforms have on how children play!
Below is a great post from Frog Design’s frogs on the road blog featuring an interview with the founders of the Sandbox Summit, Wendy Smolen and Claire Green. Enjoy!
By Kristina Loring (May 7, 2010)
Children’s lives are infused with technology that aid their education and transmedia entertainment, allow for 24/7 connectivity and blend their virtual and real-world explorations. With an increased digital lifestyle, children’s toys play an increasingly influential role in shaping their understanding of the world around them. To explore the impact that emerging media platforms and tech has on how children play, the MIT Education Arcade will present the 2010 Sandbox Summit®, “iPlay, YouPlay, Wi iPlay: How Play is Changing Media and Media is Changing Play,” on May 18 and 19 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA. design mind sat down with the founders of the Sandbox Summit, Wendy Smolen and Claire Green, to find out how toys are shaping our future creative thinkers and innovative leaders.
Q: This is the 3rd year of the Sandbox Summit at MIT. How did the Sandbox Summit begin?
A: After several years of sharing insights, drinks, and dinner with each other at Toy Fair and industry functions, we reached the (obvious) conclusion that the toy market was changing. So many of the traditional toys we had grown up with were being transformed by technology. Because we’re both proponents of basic toys and the power of play, we wondered aloud – and often – how the influence of technology would affect play. By the time dessert was served, Sandbox Summit was born. (WS)
Q: The conference brings together thought leaders from diverse disciplines to talk about children’s gaming, entertainment and television, digital literacy-through keynotes and interactive workshops. What is your favorite part of the conference?
A: Every conference is different. I’m of the love-the-one-your-with school. To me, this Sandbox Summit at MIT is the best one we’ve ever developed. My favorite part is watching a conference evolve as we plan panels and speakers. It never ends up the way we first envisioned. It’s always richer.” (WS)
Q: Research has long shown that play is an important part of early childhood development, but how kids play is usually defined by the tools given to them by adults. In what ways do you see children contributing to their own definition of play?
A: Infants play with their toes before they see the elaborate mobile hanging from their crib. Kids build sandcastles whether or not they have colorful molds to shape them. Play is second nature to kids. One of the most important ways adults can nurture this is by playing with them. We want to promote toys and media that encourage kids to keep playing – and learning. Talking, laughing, sharing, and being physically active teaches them the skills they need to create their own play as they grow. Providing open-ended toys, learning how to solve puzzles, watching and talking about TV shows together, challenging each other on the Wii, reading books—these are all ways to foster creative, critical thinkers and players. (WS)
Q: Children are being increasingly exposed to new types of media across multiple platforms and contexts-what role do toys play in introducing children to this new way of understanding content?
A: It’s no secret; Toys are changing. A cell phone is now a game console, a video camera, a document creator. Expertise in using these play-tools hones a command of 21st century literacy skills. The most successful content producers understand that the magic of these new tool-toys is in the capability to invigorate new learners. (CG)
Q: Publications like The Economist and Fast Company talk about what we can learn from emerging markets in terms of innovation in design. Under the adage “necessity breeds invention” they argue that those countries are leading the way for sustainable new design that we haven’t reached yet here in the U.S. Do you see that happening in children’s toy industries? Do you think that children in emerging markets are becoming more creative because they employ their imaginations over a packaged play experience? What can we learn from them in terms of new ways to structure or un-structure play?
A: Toys that do all the work, do all the play. And that’s neither fun, nor instructive. Toy designers need to respect a child’s innate ability to imagine, create, and discover. Take a cue from the children; Products embedded with elaborate back-stories, or inflexible directions on how to play, with whom and when, will soon be cast aside. (CG)
Q: Establishing a sense of identity is important in giving kids confidence, self awareness, and developing empathy and understanding when developing social relationships. Online games, like Disney’s Club Penguin, are allowing kids to create avatars (mimicking many of the social networks like Facebook that teenagers and adults use). How do you think that these games influence a child’s understanding of their virtual vs. physical self? Do you think these games help kids become more social or more removed from their peers?
A. This is a very good question worthy of research. The games and play patterns are new enough that we’re just beginning to know the questions, let alone the answers. Sandbox Summit poses questions like this that prompt conversation and, hopefully, spark interest in a longitudinal study. (CG)
Q: Is the increasing integration of technology in children’s toys preparing children for a hyper connected, tech mediated world or is it hindering our children’s imagination and free form play?
A: The overriding mission of Sandbox Summit is to ensure that the next generation of players becomes active innovators rather than passive consumers of technology. By creating forums where multiple disciplines and media come together we’re hoping to keep creativity, imagination, and critical thinking in the forefront. Play is basic to all children, whether they’re in emerging markets or not. Incorporating technology into play is not a bad thing: Tech proficiency is a key element of 21st century literacy. However, we, and many experts, believe play should be balanced: structured and non-structured; physical, social, solitary, emotional; online and off. (WS)
If you are interested in attending the Sandbox Summit, registration is still open!