democracy, education, and toys


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.

One of the decisions we made early on with our Goodwood Deconstructjon Blocks was to sidestep the whole patenting process and make the designs available as open source toys. Not only does this democratize the supply chain, but because we have removed the non-commercial component of the Creative Commons license, it means that anyone is welcome to take the designs and do their own thing with them--even sell their own works. We risk getting ripped off by a large company, of course, but the real intention is to make the designs available to others seeking a means to generate their own income.. And in the proces, to pump out some great toys that will benefit the kids in their circles. 

And that brings me to the other side of the issue--how toys impact development. Quite a bit of the writing on this site is devoted to the critical exploration of this topic. It is worth considering how directive many of today's toys are, and what the hidden messages are in this. When "play" is reduced to a process of following someone else's directions, or working towards someone else's goal, it serves to reinforce concepts of authority and obedience. On the other hand, when play is infused with freedom and exploration, it reinforces autonomy and empowerment. Kids practice making decisions for themselves, taking initiative, coming up with their own ideas. These are all things which we need to see in citizens, for the development of a healthy democracy. There are places for both kinds of play, just as there are lines of authority within a democracy, but it is important to consider this distinction, and which side of the ledger we want to be on. Everything is political, and there are values embodied in all aspects of all things we make.

Aroundsquare believes that those values matter. It's tacit and it's subtle, but those values surround kids. They inhabit the objects which comprise children's physical environments. Those environments are powerful forces in their socialization. Children's responses and adaptations to the world around them, both physical and social, are of huge significance to the values and perspectives they develop, what they consider to be normal and abnormal, what they consider to be good and bad, and so on. And this is why Aroundsquare cares. This is why we work hard to ensure we reflect social and environmental responsibility in all we do. We strive to deliver beneficial products and services, that have back stories we can be proud of. Those back stories matter. We take great pride in our certification as B Corporation, because this means we are are held accountable for what we claim. We're transparent about what we are doing, and welcome inquiries and discussions on what we do and how we do it, because this is a collective effort. For more information on any aspect of our work, drop us a line via the contact form on our homepage, or

Matthew Hiebert 2014-02-09