Tag Archives: Toy

Child playing.

Children prefer simple objects over toys because they’re “not limited” to being a single thing

For kids, versatility might be the way to go — as far as toys are concerned, anyway.

Child playing.

Image credits Esi Grünhagen.

I have it on reasonable authority that kids are very likely to ignore a particular toy and make a starry-eyed beeline for the box it came in. I haven’t got any of my own, so I can’t attest to the accuracy of that, but I do have a cat — so I can relate to how confusing such an experience might be.

But fret not, parents around the world, for science comes to the rescue. A new study from the University of Alabama reports that children, particularly those at preschool age, are probably attracted to generic objects because they make for more versatile toys.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

“The inclusion of generic objects like sticks and boxes may allow children to extend their play because the generic objects can be used as multiple things,” said lead author Dr. Sherwood Burns-Nader, UA assistant professor of human development and family studies.

“Pretend play such as object substitution has so many benefits, such as increased socialization and problem solving.”

A cardboard box can become virtually anything in the mind of a child, the researchers say. In contrast, a spaceship or unicorn toy — despite being much more visually appealing — is doomed to remain a spaceship or unicorn for as long as you play with it. And therein lies the reason why children, especially younger ones, would generally prefer to play with the box.

Children often substitute one object for another during play. A stick can become a sword, a rifle, or a pen. But such substitutions aren’t made lightly — the object has to have a passable resemblance to the one it’s being substituted for. As such, an object’s features such as shape or markings can disqualify it completely for a certain play-task.

“Children don’t necessarily like the box better than the toy, but they can do more things with the box because it’s not limited,” Scofield said.

The team worked with 66 children and four primary objects: one round unmarked one, one round object marked to resemble a clock, a rectangular unmarked one, and a rectangular object marked to look like a book.

The children were read a story about a young boy named Tommy. Throughout the story, Tommy needed help finding certain items that would help in the scenarios of the story. The children were asked to pick which of the four best fit the object needed in each situation. For example, at one point Tommy wanted to go outside and play with his friends, but it was cold, and he needed a jacket. His jacket was missing a button, so the children were asked which of the four items could be a button.

“There are two parts to this,” Scofield said. “First, we expect children to choose based on shape. Since most buttons are round, we think children will choose one of the two round objects to stand in for the button. Second, we expect children to favor the unmarked shapes. We think the marked shapes have a kind of fixed identity that restricts what they can be.”

The 66 children — 22 three-year-olds, 22 four-year-olds, and 22 five-year-olds — behaved pretty much exactly as the team expected them to behave: they picked the correct shape 92% of the time in all scenarios. They also showed a preference for the unmarked objects, choosing them 65% of the time in all four scenarios. Plain objects offer more flexibility to children, which can be helpful information for parents and childcare providers when purchasing toys, Burns-Nader said.

The team concludes that children’s play spaces stand to benefit from including generic objects with few details as tools to promote object substitution and creative play.

The paper “The role of shape and specificity in young children’s object substitution” has been published in the journal Infant and Child Development.

LEGO launches functioning wind turbine model to promote sustainability

LEGO wants you to build wind turbines — one eco-friendly plastic block at a time.

Lego windmill.

Image credits LEGO.

Danish toy manufacturer LEGO teamed up with turbine manufacturer Vestas to create a toy turbine set that you need to assemble, but actually works! Oh, and the blocks are built using LEGO’s new sustainable production process.

The 826-piece turbine stands 1 meter (0.3 feet) high when completed. The kit was reportedly made exclusively for Vestas back in 2008 and will now go on sale to the public on November 23.


Lego windmill 2.

Image credits LEGO.

The turbine (once completed) boasts three adjustable blades that rotate — the set includes a motor to spin them — and built-in aircraft warning lights. The vista is further fleshed out by a house, patio, mailbox, flower beds, and a white picket fence, all of them pleasantly rural.

Turbines obviously need turbine workers, so LEGO is also throwing a Vestas van, two service technicians with safety helmets, a lady (who, presumably, inhabits the house underneath the turbine), and a dog (presumably the lady’s pet).

Lego did not remain oblivious to the irony of building a model promoting sustainability from unsustainable materials. The kit’s blocks were cast from a new, sugarcane-based plastic that LEGO announced earlier this year. The material, polyethylene, is softer than the traditional plastic LEGO used, but it’s hardy and, according to the company, the blocks are “technically identical to those produced using conventional plastic”.

“We strive to make a positive impact on the environment and are committed to climate action and to use sustainable materials in products and packaging,” said Tim Brooks, Vice President of Lego’s Environmental Responsibility Group. “This wind turbine celebrates our first steps in bringing these ambitions to life and we hope it will inspire builders to learn about renewable energy.”

“Today, wind energy is the cheapest source of energy in many markets, which have made wind turbines a sustainability icon across the globe and we are proud to partner with the LEGO Group on this relaunch,” said Morten Dyrholm, Group Senior Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Public Affairs at Vestas.

Dyrholm explains that Vestas requested the model specifically to promote wind energy to a small audience within the energy sector. He adds that today’s relaunch of the LEGO set for a global audience “tells the story of how wind energy [has] gone from niche to mainstream, not just within energy but the entire world”.

The new kit — along with the plant-based plastic bricks — are part of LEGO’s drive to implement sustainable materials in their packaging by 2025 and their products by 2030.