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.
Our forthcoming product, Monkey Knuckles, is a similar deal. There is a very simple principle involved, just two sliding balls on a string. The fact that they slide gives rise to some interesting physics, and presents a world of options for how the toy can be manipulated.
Part of my frustration with the mainstream toy market, and part of my inspiration for starting Aroundsquare, is the fact that so many of the toys out there funnel time and attention in a single specific direction. Even most of the construction toys on the market either come with instructions for the thing you're supposed to build, or with challenge cards for the thing you're trying to replicate. They're more like models or puzzles than anything related to creative output. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. Models and puzzles are good toys. But the task in both cases is closed. And the medium is the message.. the practice involved is one of following directions or working towards a specific goal. If we want to empower children to think and act with autonomy, we need to provide space for them to do so. We need to think critically about how often kids really have the chance to make their own decisions. If we want them to grow up to become open-minded adults, to develop their own identities, to overcome ethical servitude in general, we need to let them flex their brain meat a little.
And I'm not just talking about play here, we need to think critically about how tightly we schedule their time, and consider the value of letting them be bored for a few minutes until they figure out something fun to do. They're good at that if we have the patience to let them try. Kids are naturally curious, and will seek out the stimulation they need. Our job is to create the platforms to let them do that in healthy ways.
Aroundsquare is committed to creating these kinds of spaces. Part of our commitment involves making our toy designs freely available to others under a Creative Commons license. Rather than locking in our toy designs, others are free to take them and use them, make money off of them, and develop their own derivative works. All that they need to do is to share the ideas forward in the same manner, and attribute the original ideas back to Aroundsquare. It's conceptual building blocks.
Matthew Hiebert 2014-01-21