Aroundsquare is freaking excited to announce a new partnership with Yomega for the production and worldwide distribution of Monkey Knuckles. For those of you who have been following Aroundsqare, you'll know that this is a project that's been in the making for over a decade. Monkey Knuckles was first developed back in 2003, and at that time, it was a crude handmade item, with a player community of one.Read More
At Aroundsquare, we believe in play, and we believe in democracy. Until the end of December 2014, all proceeds from the purchase of Aroundsquare's toys will be donated to support the work of the civil society Council for a Community of Democracies. Learn more about their excellent work here. And read on to understand a little bit more about the connection between creative play and democratic participation.
One of the cornerstones of democracy is a citizenry that is ready to take on the responsibilities that democratic participation demands. This requires quite a lot of things, including a sense of interest and engagement in the world around us, and a feeling of self-efficacy, like we are capable of making a difference. We needRead 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
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
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
Reposted from an interview for Fat Brain Toys...
How do you come up with new designs?
Design is a very hands-on process for me. It doesn't take place in my head. Since I was a kid, I have always been a maker. I have lots of tools and materials around me. Sometimes I will start with a small collection of materials,Read More
The Policy Landscape of Play
For all the work that Aroundsquare does in the fields of play, education, and international development, both practical and philosophical, we have never posted anything on this site about what is going on in the upper ups internationally. Turns out, it's not just kids that think play is important. Turns out, there is some interestingRead More
Aroundsquare's Matthew Hiebert was interviewed recently by TDmonthly Magazine on toys and play and AO2's work as a social enterprise. Excerpt below, and full text at the link which follows.. enjoy!
Q. How do you hope your products affect children’s' lives?Read More
The Basic Idea
When we say play, we're actually talking about a whole variety of different things. The term encompasses activities which range from manual to mental, from tangible to imaginary, from closed to open, from individual to group, from competitive to cooperative, and from silent all the way to rowdy. Basically, play refers to the enjoyable and purposeful activities of babies, old folks, and everyone in between. Play is often centred around some kind of game, or toy, or scenario—but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a pretty open category.
Play is one of the most natural human behaviours. It is among the precious few innate human functions which are not immediately necessary for survival. Children are bornRead More
I grew up playing with yo-yos. I learned the basics on a fixed axel, and it was pretty mind blowing for me when I found out about sleeping yo-yos, with the string looped around the axel to allow it to spin at the bottom. Around that time, the world started to open up.. Tom Kuhn started making precision yo-yos out of aircraft aluminum, with ball-bearing axels.. Duncan took things forward with the freehand embodiment which uses a counterweight that the player can release, rather than having the thing tied to the finger. And it just keeps going.. now there are a whole bunch of small batch yo-yo makers which have introduced side-cap bearings--bearings on the outside of the yo-yo which let the player basically hold the yo-yo in their hand while it's still spinning.. there are off-string yo-yos which aren't even attached at the end of the string.. and micro-diablos which are basically a yo-yo that canRead More
Children are born with soft skulls--literally and figuratively. Politically incorrect, huh. But face it, children are designed, biologically, to come into the world prepared to absorb all sorts of stimuli and begin to make sense of it as information. They're not doing this through language.. it's much more like osmosis. In the early stages, they have no real cognitive filters. Their perception is pure and unstructured.
Slowly, their universe begins to coalesce, and take shape. They begin to recognize and make sense of things. But this is personal. It does not happen according to some universal law of human nature. Their cognitive infrastructure takes shape in relation to the world around them. It is their specific experiences which give it form. And since at this stage, children are not yet able to reflect critically on those experiences, it is important for adults to give someRead More
the best creative play engages the child comprehensively. i've been reading recently about waldorf education, and rudolf steiner's work more generally. one of the themes which comes up regularly with waldorf is the development of the child through head, heart, and hands.. cognitive, emotional, physical.. or some variation on that. i think back to my own childhood, and my favorite toy over the years was the yo-yo.. and why? it rewarded me incrementally and grew with me, as my skill developed my tricks became more sophisticated, it was very open-ended and allowed me to come up with my own variations and modifications.. my own style of play. it was a personal expression, and it fits nicely with the idea of engaging head, heart, and hands.
aroundsquare is best known for wooden blocks--twig (through fat brain toys), and theRead More
why does it matter what we let our kids play with? at one level, the answer is obvious... isn't there a big difference between army guys and huggy dolls? but there is more to it than that... at another level entirely, army guys and huggy dolls are basically just two versions of the same thing. they both prescribe a certain kind of play, they both frame the same kind of toy-child relationship, they're both heavily gendered, and completely lacking in imagination. what's more, both are likely to be made from the same cheap materials, mass produced in the same kind of factory, and even advertised on their own tv shows. there is a whole worldview, a whole economic paradigm, and a whole lifestyle embodied in those toys.
the thing about toys is that they are among the first material things that children spend any amount of time interacting with. the quality and character of that interaction isRead More
Play is one of the most natural human endeavors, and one of the first. The drive to play is preprogrammed into us, we are born ready to explore and learn, to poke and prod, to try and err, to experiment and observe the results. But our concept of play has become corrupted. Play has become associated with a narrow range of activities, usually involving preset boundaries, predefined rules, and artificially imposed objectives. Along with this, our ideas about playthings have also become corrupted. The shelves of most toy stores are full of toys which prescribe a very particular activity, and those which could potentially be used in more than one way usually come with instructions which tell us the "right way" to play with them; they provide us with the end goal, or perhaps a series of challenge cards. There is nothing wrong with learning to follow instructions, and certainly nothing wrongRead More