Friday, December 11, 2009

Innovation and Imagination

It seems these days many people are talking about the importance of innovation for turning our economy around. Columnists David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman all talk about it. Our country has many resources but perhaps one of our most valuable resources is the resource of imagination and our ability as a nation to innovate. We not only have the talent, but we also have the business and cultural environment that encourages innovation--something not all countries have.

What I wonder about is whether we recognize the connection between innovation and the role that toys and games play in creating imaginative and innovative people. Play has an essential role to play in this equation. It is time to encourage all aspects of the imaginative mind and our internal imaginal worlds. Let kids' imaginations run free. Let our own hearts and minds dream big.

The world is full of success stories showing how a little idea turned into something huge, even magnificent. What we can all do is to say we care about the imaginal world of our kids and our colleagues.

One way to encourage the imagination is to buy gifts and games for the holidays that stimulate open-ended thinking and open-ended play. And then, it's up to us to play them with a spirit of wonder and amazement over the wild ideas that come out.

Go ahead. Find yourself a game or gift that inspires your imagination. You just might find out how much fun you will have in the process.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Top 10 Tips for Buying Good Toys

Here’s a list of 10 tips for buying good toys for all the kids in your life (and consider yourself a kid if you’re young in spirit and love to play!)

1. Buy toys that engage their imagination. In a survey of kids done by a toy industry magazine, kids said that they want toys that spark their imagination. Kids are full of ideas, so buy games that tap into this amazing power. (Example: Think-ets, Legos)

2. Get toys that have many different ways of playing with them. Kids want layers of fun. They want games that have different rules, levels, and applications. This way, their toy isn’t boring after awhile and keeps on giving just when they start to fade. (Examples: Playing Cards, Bananagrams)

3. Intrigue them enough to make them want to invent a toy themselves. All kids like to invent. Whether it’s a scientific experiment or a fantasy play, they want to create something new. Look for games and toys that are simple, innovative, and that “think outside the box.” Inspire your kids. (Example: Fractiles, Flashflight Flying Discs)

4. Buy games of quality. There is nothing worse than getting a toy home and having it break after a short period of time playing with it. If at all possible, buy the toy that has a sturdy and satisfying feel to it. It will last far longer and its play value will far outlast your original investment. (Examples: ‘Bedroom at Arles’ Wooden Puzzle by Think-a-lot Toys, Doinkit Darts.)

5. Try something different. It’s a big toy world out there and while we all know and love our favorites, like Monopoly and Pictionary, there are many hidden and not-so-hidden gems waiting for you. Ask your friends, your neighbors and your specialty toys store sales clerks what’s new and different. (Examples: Djubi, Magformers)

6. Avoid licensed products. OK, this may be hard for some of us but the problem with buying too many licensed toys is that they limit kids’ imagination. Products that come with their own scripted story tend to do the thinking for the child and don’t allow kids to create their own stories, which are limitless. (Example: Knight/Dragon Cape and Hood by Creative Education of Canada)

7. Choose simple toys. A good toy is 10 percent toy and 90 percent child. The child's imagination is the engine of healthy play. Simple toys and natural materials, like wood, boxes, balls, dolls, sand, and clay invite children to create their own scenes—and then knock them down and start over. (Examples: Sand, Clay, Dolls, Balls)

8. Be Easy on the Environment. There is a growing awareness that we need to start buying toys that are not only good for our kids but good for the planet. Many new toy companies are stepping up and creating great products that use recycled materials. Kids will know you care when they see you buying toys that are “green” and use minimal packaging. (Examples: Tea Set by Green Toys, ImagiPLAY’s Wooden Toys)

9. Choose toys that support right brain thinking. Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind says that the future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: designers, inventors, teachers, and storytellers, etc.—those who are empathic, inventive and have big-picture capabilities. All kids—boys and girls—need toys that engage the right side of their brains. (Examples: Scratch Art, Piano Wizard)

10. Listen to Your Kids. By this, we mean listen to your kid’s passions. Sure, they might want the latest hot toy or game—and one may be fine—but also think about each child in particular and find out what really moves them and what they are ready for. Think back over the year and see if there are times when your kid was truly engaged and then find those toys and games that meet this passion. (Examples: Your Own Eyes and Ears)

Most importantly, have fun when buying good toys for your kids. Nothing ruins good play by getting stressed out when you are out to bring more fun into the world. Make your toy-buying journey a destination in and of itself.