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The Power of Play in Education, Creativity Development and STEM

June 24, 2018

The proverb “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, according to Wikipedia, has been around since 1659. Since then scientists have built a body of research that play is not only antidote for “dull” but also a key ingredient of creativity.

In May 2017, The National Association for the Education of Young Children noted, “Monkeys play. Dogs play. Rats play. Even octopuses play. And without any instruction, children of all races and genders, in all cultures of the world, invent and reinvent play in every generation. … A growing body of behavioral research establishes relationships between children’s play and development in several areas, including language (Toub et al. 2016), executive functions (Tominey & McClelland 2011), mathematics and spatial skills (Fisher et al. 2013), scientific thinking (Schulz & Bonawitz 2007), and social and emotional development (Dore, Smith, & Lillard 2015).” (source)

“Mythbusters taught me to love science because I was having so much fun playing. That is why I thinks toys are the best way to inspire STEM. We can tap into what kids already do naturally.” – Kari Byron, Chief Creative Officer – SmartGurlz

With school out for the summer and the increasing focus on STEM there is a growing market for playing with STEM-centric toys; here are a few options to consider when shopping for summer distractions (note: these are all cool products that the I’ve personally experienced via my family / extended family):

  • GoldieBlox – “Through the integration of storytelling and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) principles, GoldieBlox creates toys, books, apps, videos, animation and merchandise; the tools that empower girls to build their confidence, dreams and ultimately, their futures.”
  • SmartGurlz – “SmartGurlz is a line of friendly self-balancing robots and action dolls that engage and encourage girls to learn to code. Connected via smartphone or tablet, SmartGurlz™ allows girls 6 and up to immerse themselves in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).”
  • LEGO MINDSTORMS – “By combining LEGO® elements with a programmable brick, motors and sensors, you can make your creations walk, talk, grab, think, shoot and do almost anything you can imagine!”
  • KiwiCo Tinker Crate – “KiwiCo was created to celebrate kids’ natural creativity and curiosity, while helping parents who want to bring enriching experiences to their children.”

We’ll be exploring the power of play late next week at the opening of Toy Story Land in Walt Disney World… stay tuned for more updates!


Toy Story Land, Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World (credit: Walt Disney Co.)

Tim Brown (IDEO) TED Talk “Tales of creativity and play”:


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