Aroundsquare's activities are diverse, but they have a single centre of gravity. They all have to do with helping to build a better world by supporting healthy learning and development. So we make toys that spark creativity and encourage active play. And we support educational initiatives all over the world, and especially those that are focused on empowering young people to help transform their communities, to make them more peaceful, more sustainable, and more just.Read More
One of the challenges of introducing a new skill toy is establishing a base of ideas so that people have some idea about the potential for what the toy can do. In the case of Monkey Knuckles, it's compounded a bit because the play is continuous. It's not like a yo-yo where there is a beginning and end to each "trick". With MK, there is a continuous flow and progression from one technique to the next. And there is no "reset" like in juggling or other skill toys where you make drop and start over... MK allows you to flow from one style to the next, and if you mess up one technique and miss a catch or something, there is almost always a way to recover and go on to a new trick without stopping. When introducing MK, I usually talk about styles of play, or ways of holding the toy, rather thanRead More
Aroundsquare is a Canadian company, and we've had great support from a handful of independent toy stores up here since the beginning. We got our start in Calgary, and the Calgary community has been awesome actually, with great thanks to longtime friends, Livingstone and Cavell Extraordinary Toys, Monkey Shines Children's Books, and Riva's Eco Store. Our first real exposure to the rest of Canada came this year at the Canadian Toy and Hobby Fair this pas January. We connected up with a bunch of cool independent stores east and west of crude country. And we also met, for the first time, a very cool Canadian distributor specializing in eco-friendly and socially responsible toys. They represent very cool and unique brands across Canada, and Aroundsquare is proud toRead More
At Aroundsquare, we're interested in the idea of platforms--structures on which incredible things can be done. In one way or another, all of our activities are related to establishing these kinds of platforms, whether physical or conceptual. In a recent conversation with another educator and toy developer, he remarked about the Goodwood Deconstruction Blocks, "We really like the interaction between the pieces and the "structured complexity" that is involved to create something of significance." This structure is the platform I am referring to. It is the three dimensional grammar which makes the toy interesting. Without rules, there is no game. The rules are what make the fun possible.Read More
One of the questions people sometimes ask about the Goodwood Deconstruction Blocks is, "What are they for?" I usually respond with something like, "Weren't you listening?" You see, it's part of a bigger conversation, and one which reveals some fairly entrenched assumptions about what play is s'posed to be. We've gotten into this mode where we expect everything to come with instructions, or challenges, or goals. We get uncomfortable with too much freedom. It's like being out in the wilderness! Lions and tigers and bears, right? I'm of the other mind. I'm deeply afraid of what will happen if we let a generation of kids grow up always being told what to do, always working towards someone else's preconceived goals.Read More
Aroundsquare is involved in what might appear to be a strange mix of projects. Social development and child development are pretty far apart on the technical spectrum, but they are related in that they both have to do with the kind of people growing up within a society. Educational consulting and toy design are a bit easier to connect, and with that connection, Aroundsquare works to bridge individual and social development. Democratization, sustainability, cognitive theory.. It's all interconnected, and Aroundsquare's work infiltrates all of these fields. These things all have to do with the way that people, as individuals, and collectively as societies, develop.Read More
Aroundsquare takes play seriously. We see it as an inherent drive to explore and experiment, and as a consequence, we see it as a critical part of how kids learn how the world works. With this as a starting point, we can begin to differentiate the different kinds of play. Most of the toys out there these days are directive. They're designed to either entertain kids while they sit passively, or they tell the kids what to do. Aroundsquare's toys are about the opposite. They are tools. They are platforms for expression. There is no right or wrong way to play, and they leave a lot up to the imagination. This kind of decision-making is critical for the development of fully autonomous adults, able to think for themselves, take initiative, and get things done.Read More
With the support of the Council for a Community of Democracies, Aroundsquare's Matthew Hiebert recently had the opportunity to participate in a panel presentation on fostering democracy through education, hosted by the International Foundation for Democracy Education. The esteemed panelists included Lee Arbetman, Executive Director of Street Law, Augusta Featherston, Regional Program Officer with IFES, and Romina Kasman, Coordinator of the Inter-American Program on Education for Democratic Values and Practices at the Organization of American States.
A video recording of the webcast for the event, along with links to downloadable materials provided by the speakers, can be found on the IFES website.Read More
One of the common themes running through all the work of Aroundsquare is the idea of freedom within some kind of a structure. In discussion of cognitive theory, this freedom is referred to in terms of affordances--the available options for action or choice within a given context. Part of what Aroundsquare tries to do is to create structures which are empowering, and which maximize the available affordances.
The Goodwood Deconstruction Blocks are a good example of this. While classic building blocks are timeless and elegant in their simplicity, we've removed a few little pieces here and there, creating spaces where the blocks can fit together and balance in new and interesting ways. The geometry creates a kind of platform for expression. The additional affordances provide new options for exploration and discovery.Read More
As an independent toy developer, I am a little bit distrustful of department stores and other big retailers. And as a social entrepreneur, I have always preferred to partner with independent retailers. I was never interested in becoming a businessperson. I made my choice early on to go into the field of education, where I have worked for the 15 years of my professional life thus far.
But throughout this time, and starting much earlier, I've maintained an interest in well designed and open-ended toys, and a complementary interest in arts and crafts. I've been making toys in some form or another for the better part of my life. Most of that was just mucking around. Sometimes I would follow simple instructions in a craft book to make some kind of novel gadget. But more often, I would take inspiration from something else, either modding my existing toys or coming up with something entirelyRead More
I've been doing a little bit of writing recently, and a couple of presentations. I thought it would be worthwhile to put the pieces all together in one spot here for anyone interested.
Hiebert, M. (2013). Strengthening democratic culture: Education about, for, and in democracy. Presented to the Community of Democracies Education Working Group. Warsaw, Poland.
Hiebert, M. (2013). Best practices review and gap analysis. In Council for a Community of Democracies (Ed.) Best practices manual on democracy education (pp. 37-52). Washington, DC: Council for a Community of Democracies.Read More
A variety of tensions inevitably result during any process of change. Many teachers feel these tensions when implementing transformative educational approaches, because they are very different from traditional ways of teaching. It's the same situation, whether we're talking about education for democracy, education for sustainable development, student centred approaches, or whatever the case may be. Teachers must strive to find the right balance between extremes, in order to mediate these tensions and be as effective as possible in the classroom.
Balance 1: Explicit and Tacit
Much of the discussion in this Guidebook has been about tacit learning, and the role of contextual factors in students’ experiences. However, most curricula, and mostRead More
It's easy to talk about why democracy education is important. It's easy to pull together content about democracy.. even stuff for kids. But it's a lot hard to conceptualize what the practice of democracy education should look like. Clearly it doesn't just involve sitting and listening to lectures about democracy. But then what? Building on some of the work I did last year on education for democracy, I have developed a new guidebook for educators on how to put some of the theory into practice, and how to support some of the content with authentic experiences doing democracy.
The guidebook is actually an application of something deeper that I'm working on.. Aroundsquare's social transformation model. I'm exploring how we might, if we really want it, undertake to make some meaningful changes in our societies, in ourRead More
Aroundsquare has won a few awards and honours lately that are worth pulling together for a little mention:
B Corp Best for Communities Honouree - Aroundsquare is very proud to have been named by B Labs as one of its B Corp Best for Community Honourees. All Certified B Corporations have to pass rigorous standards to become certified in the place, so to be recognized as a leading micro-enterprise among B Corporations is truly an honour. We take pride in being a founding Canadian B Corporation, and we take pride in our score of excellence in the areas of governance, community, and environment on B Labs's Impact Assessment. And we are extremely proud of the partnerships and policies we have developed which have contributed to our recognition as part of this Best for the World campaign.Read More
A lot of my work recently has been on the idea of adjectivizing education--making education more aligned with a particular set of values and principles, such as those related to sustainability, democracy, social justice, and so on. In doing this, I've found it necessary to elaborate on the idea of intentionality.
The basic premise for a lot of my work is that if we want to go beyond educating *about* a certain subject, and actually educate in a way that will create some social movement towards the related ideal, then we need to go beyond talking about the content of instruction, and look at the actual educational experience of students. This frames education as a formative act, rather than an informative one. It is concerned with the deep development of students, not just head stuffing.Read More
The physical classroom is often seen in purely functional terms, with the desks organized to keep students from talking, and the walls, if used, mainly to post rules and notices, or to reinforce the main content taught. Democracy requires deliberative processes, and education for democracy requires discussion in classrooms. Classroom discussion should not always be led by the teacher, because students need to develop the capacity to converse and disagree and resolve differences on their own, and with support. This process can be facilitated by configuring desks in a way which encourages face-to-face interaction between students. Teachers can try different configurations of desks depending on the types of activities which they are involving students in. The use of floor space should not be taken for granted, and can be adapted to a variety of purposes.Read More