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Inventions Inspired by Toys

Inventions Inspired by Toys

Updated: January 17, 2023

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” 
           -Fred Rogers

Children naturally love to play. Babies engage in play as early as two months old.  By that age, they are able to recognize facial expressions and will begin to socialize in their own way, which is their earliest form of play. Play is how children learn, and it is important to allow our children to play in their own way. This means providing them with time and space to explore their surroundings.  There is so much in our environment that is interesting to a child, whether it is age appropriate open-ended toys, every day household items, craft materials, or even items found in nature.

Professor Henry Cowles states that, "A child learns by constructing a theory of the world and testing it against experience. In this sense, children are little scientists – they hypothesize on the basis of observations, test their hypotheses experimentally, and then revise their views in light of the evidence they gather."

Due to their naturally inquisitive nature, when children play they are thinking like a scientist: manipulating, tinkering, experimenting, failing, tweaking and doing it over again until they get the results they were looking for or have solved the problem. Sometimes, they may not even have a problem to solve,  but rather experiment purely for fun. Unbeknownst to the child, trial and error during a simple play session is helping them to build the skills to use creative solutions to solve more complex problems later in life.

At HABA, our toys are designed with this premise, that children are innately wired to invent and explore. Our open-ended toys ignite enthusiasm for creative thinking and allow for children to play to learn about the world. Assembling an intricate path for a marble using one of our new Wooden Marble Runs and our dynamic Hubelino sets or creating extensive elevated bridges and slides using our Kullerbu Play Track System allows children to incorporate cause and effect thinking which is one of the fundamental skills needed for inventing. When the marble doesn’t run fast enough or falls off the track, they need to problem solve and look at their creation differently.

Play isn't just the work of childhood. Many inventions have been the direct result of play. For example, Stanford bioengineers were inspired by a simple toy called the whirligig. Using the same idea, they have developed an inexpensive, human-powered blood centrifuge that will enable diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening diseases like malaria and tuberculosis in poor, remote regions where these diseases are most prevalent.

Inspired by toys he built in his childhood, Dutch-Afghan inventor Massoud Hassani’s wind-powered "Mine Kafon" meaning "mine exploder" in Dari, resembles a large, mechanical tumbleweed and costs under $50 to make, is capable of safely detonating up to four mines in one journey.

Alison Gopnik, an author and theorist at the University of California, Berkeley, sums this ability to use toys as the precursor for inventions in her article for the New York Times:

"We take it for granted that young children “get into everything.” But new studies of “active learning” show that when children play with toys they are acting a lot like scientists doing experiments. Preschoolers prefer to play with the toys that will teach them the most, and they play with those toys in just the way that will give them the most information about how the world works."

Making space and time for this type of inventive play will spark curiosity and imagination. As Albert Einstein famously said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."

Opening your child to the imagination and wonder around them truly “embraces the entire world” and the best way to do this seemingly large act, is through open-ended play.


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