Ironically, one thing you don’t normally see at Toy Fair New York is kids. Which is a shame, because kids aren’t just consumers of toys, they’re makers too. But this year some young toy designers did make an appearance at the Javits Center to talk about their creations.
Play Fair, the Toy Industry Association’s new event for families and fans, held adjacent to the main Toy Fair convention hall, featured winners of the 2015 Young Inventor Challenge Winners at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair. Seven-year-old Kedar Narayann was on hand to explain the workings of Storibot, a board game that teaches blind children to code using tactile, velcro pieces. His mother Uma says Kedar is an “extreme learner” who loves to teach. She drew on this talent when Kedar was five by telling him the Wii was broken (it wasn’t really, she confided) and encouraging him to create games of his own. Together they started playing around with Scratch, the MIT programming software for kids. Then at the National Maker Faire in Washington, DC an adaptive technology librarian suggested they make a version for blind children. They’ve taken Storibot to numerous Maker Faires and events around the country.
Kedar’s teaching style involves a lot of questions and answers. “Are you going to move three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? No! You’re going to move three steps. So let’s take the ‘step’ piece and put it here.” As he demonstrated, the Storibot game has three parts. One is a magnetic playing board that lets you move pieces in the shape of a girl, a rabbit, houses, etc., along a path to act out the story of “Codeylocks and the Three Bears.” Next is a felt board on which you can stick code pieces, similar to the drag-and-drop coding blocks in Scratch. These physical pieces — which include an If-Then frame to introduce conditional statements — allow even vision-impaired people to manipulate code.
The third part of the game ties it back to the computer. When you hold up the QR code on the back of the code pieces to your webcam, you can watch the program run online in the form of an animation. According to his mother Uma, there are many more levels of Storibot to be developed, and Kedar seems eager to present his game wherever he can find an audience.
Over at the Guidecraft booth at Toy Fair proper, 16-year-old Ethan Wadworth talked about the storyline and artwork he has been commissioned to create for the new PowerClix Explorer Series magnetic building toy. PowerClix are flat shapes that snap together magnetically to create 3D sculptures. The Explorer series combines three “design languages” (hollow frames, solids, and curved organics). Each set comes with a build guide including a comic written and illustrated by Ethan as well as an interactive backdrop and tiny Space Guy figure he designed. Ethan said he deliberately kept his storyline open-ended, to encourage kids to imagine their own adventures. The first Explorer Series set has a space theme, and Ethan is currently working on a new architectural set inspired by building styles from around the world (including his native Brooklyn).
Briana Gardell isn’t a kid, but she was a student in the Technical Entrepreneurship masters program at at Lehigh University when she developed her new product Goblies. Goblies are cross between water balloons and paintballs that you mix up yourself from a kit and throw by hand. They consist of corn starch, sodium alginate and calcium chloride, with cosmetic-grade coloring, so they’re non-toxic (although not entirely stain-proof — play clothes are advised).
The path from homework assignment to market was incredibly short — Gardell launched a successful Kickstarter in June 2015, shipped her rewards in August, and by October Goblies were available at the product’s first retail outlet, Maker Shed. The Goblies Kickstarter page mentions that Gardell also created a free educational program to create Goblies in schools, and there’s a short explanation of the chemistry behind the paintball’s membrane on the Goblies website. But Gardell’s story — it took 26 iterations to come up with the final Goblies formula — should be just as educational as the chemistry involved in creating them.