Developmental Toys

"You are worried about seeing him spend his early years in doing nothing. What! ... Nothing to skip, play, and run around all day long? Never in his life will he be so busy again."
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, 1762

In Rousseau's day, very little was known about the science of cognitive development. But even then, it was clear that "child's play" is not mere distraction or lazy pasttime - in fact, it is a critical process in how children discover the world and eventually become capable of thinking like adults.

The past 50 years have seen an explosion of research on the mechanisms underlying brain and cognitive development, but only recently has this work begun to inform the kinds of early-life experiences we give our children. Specifically, "enriched play" is a relatively new concept, gaining traction across the research landscape: as detailed in this post, this is an active area of research at the MIT Media Lab, the Human-Computer Interaction Lab of the University of Maryland, and in the Craft Technologies Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

To learn more about this "enriched play" movement in the consumer world, I sent a series of questions to Tiny Love - a company specializing in developmental toys for the consumer market.
DI: Who started Tiny Love, and what is it's history?

TL: Tiny Love was founded 15 years ago, in 1991, by Shoshi and Isaac Oren, who owned a chain of retail stores for children product and decided to expand into the developmental toys field.

DI: What is the toy-development process and creative process like at Tiny Love?

TL: Much like everybody else, we start with an idea. The idea can come either from inside: from the management, the art director, an account manager who receives requests and input from his clients, or from outside: students that participate in a Tiny Love sponsored course for example. We make a point out of fostering relationships with design schools, design students and young designers, and they reward us with fresh ideas. There are two factors that come into play in the toy development process: one, it's important to us to be innovative and pioneering in terms of redefining the boundaries of existing toy categories and even in terms of creating new categories altogether, so we try to invest our creative energies in these directions. Second, maybe the most important aspect of our toys is the 7 elements system we developed that make sure the toy provides the baby with the appropriate developmental values. The 7 element system, in short, provide the parent a point of reference as to the different stages of development the baby should go through, and the ways to encourage her in achieving them. Our website offers an extensive explanation of the 7 elements system, including cross-sections by age, if you would like to read more about it. This is where our in-house developmental psychologist gets in the picture. She reviews the toy thoroughly to make sure it is up to par vis-à-vis the developmental values it supplies, and the age group it is intended for. We also use other experts such as a physiotherapist and an occupational therapist that contribute their professional knowledge to the features and general usability of the toy.

DI: What recent research work have you found inspiring?

TL: There are more than a few examples where our products relate directly to recent studies in child development. One example would be our DVD MAGIQ product that responds to the increasing need in mitigating young children exposure to television. In recent years a growing number of studies point to the "couch potato problem": children are watching too much television and becoming more and more passive, a phenomenon that has a host of harmful physical and emotional consequences. In the face of this reality, new research works have established the distinction between passive and active viewing as well as the latter's potential benefits for children, for example "Growing up with Television – The Small Screen in the Lives of Children and Adolescents" (Open University Press, 2002), by Professor Dafna Lamish of Tel Aviv University’s Media Studies Dept. Our DVD MAGIQ product is design to encourage active viewing in children and babies, by creating a real interaction between the child and a toy animal that is synchronized to respond to the DVD program. This technique can potentially change the entire paradigm of watching television by transforming it into a more dialogical activity.

Another example is our new Activitot series that encourage babies to spend time on playing on their tummies, in response to research that found that babies that did not spend enough time on their tummies did not develop as well as those who did.

DI: What advice do you have for people who would like to make developmentally-informed toys?

TL: Working in Tiny Love one realizes that people come with good ideas all the time. The difficult part is to get from that good idea to the part where you actually has a toy to sell. You need to go through a complicated development and production process, and you need to market and sell your product. So, our advice for making developmentally-informed toys is: come to us with your brilliant ideas, and we'll put it to work in our tried and true system.
Thanks to Shiri Percinger-Cohen for this opportunity to take a peek inside Tiny Love Toys.

Related Posts:
Profile: Mark Tilden (of Wowwee Toys)
Intelligent Adaptive Toys


Anonymous Anonymous said...

developmental toys are a pet obsession of mine. My current favorite is logiblocks. cool stuff!

9/25/2006 10:13:00 PM  

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