As a member of Edventure More’s Board of Directors, a long time Camp Edmo/Camp EdTech camper family and founder of Let’s Go Chipper, an eco-educational program that playfully teaches good character and respect for the environment, I’m a strong advocate of play-based learning. The idea of “play” has a number of benefits and Jeff Pinkser, President of Klutz toys, is an expert on developing products that inspire creativity in kids and on how they provide fun and learning. We’re thrilled to have him as a guest blogger.
What do you see as the benefits of hands-on learning activities?
Kids learn in a wide range of ways, but there’s plenty of research that shows that in addition to benefits such as improved motor skills and hand-to-eye coordination, hands-on activities provide cognitive benefits. Reading instructions and applying them to make a craft, for example, activates multiple parts of kids’ brains. This helps kids retain information, and strengthens connections between different parts of the brain. At Klutz, our products also help kids develop critical skills that will serve them throughout their lives, like reading and following instructions.
Can you tell us why “play” is so good for children and their development?
Play comes naturally to children and there’s ample research to demonstrate that it helps kids develop cognitive and social skills that prepare them for life. These skills are the foundation for learning more complex skills later on. What’s more, different play patterns provide different developmental benefits, from pretend play to arts and crafts. The way that kids play is evolving, but there are plenty of play patterns that haven’t changed. One of the things we do best at Klutz is to take a classic play pattern that cuts across cultural and geographic boundaries, then update it with a fun or novel twist. For example, our Tissue Paper Crafts book provides a simpler system of folding tissue paper, but it also extends the subject matter beyond the traditional flowers to cute birds—we even include a punch-out bird cage. We have a number of books that update the classic paper doll play pattern: Fashion Forms lets kids make 3-D outfits, and our Magical Horses and Magical Mermaids books extend the play pattern, not only because of their subject matter, but because we include luscious backgrounds for pretend play.
What do you think about the Importance of allowing kids to be themselves?
We work really hard to find the right “voice” for our products—we don’t want to talk down to kids and we want to make sure they have plenty of room to create what they want to create. We give them the tools they need—detailed instructions, complete sets of components, and plenty of inspiration, but it’s up to them to create their own unique applications. When they read and play with one of our Friendship Bracelet books, for example, we want them to experiment with different weaves and different colors of the cord that comes in the book. That way, kids can make finished products that are unique expressions of themselves.
What are some of the ways that Klutz toys inspire self-expression and creativity?
As we develop our products, we try to make sure that we focus on process rather than product. If you give the same Klutz book to five different kids, we hope to see five different creations come out of it. But even more importantly, we want kids to learn a skill they can use over and over again to make what they want to make. For example, our Toolbox Jewelry book uses real hardware—nuts, washers, fasteners—to help kids create jewelry. We hope that when they’re done with the book they’ll expand their creativity and raid their parents’ stockpile of hardware in the garage to make even more of their own designs. Better yet, we want them to look at everyday household objects in a different light, so that they come up with new and exciting uses for toothpicks or cotton balls or safety pins.
Can you tell us more about the role of “toys” in teaching children?
More and more, we find that parents are looking for toys that provide great play value and teach children important skills—pure fun on its own isn’t enough any more. I often say that Klutz is based on failure; our first book, Juggling for the Complete Klutz, starts by teaching kids the correct way to drop juggling balls. After all, beginning jugglers spend a lot more time dropping balls than catching them. But the goal of the book, and of so many of the books we create, is to build kids’ resilience. Whether it’s doing needle felting, making stickers out of washi tape, or learning to draw, everything we make teaches essential skills and gives kids the tools and encouragement they need to overcome obstacles and do things they didn’t think they were capable of doing. Klutz is a division of Scholastic, so we make sure that learning is built into our products.
How do you come up with the ideas for your products? Do you integrate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) principles into what you develop?
One of the neatest things about working at Klutz is that everyone has the chance to come up with product concepts, not just the people who work in Product Development. We then work together as a team to figure out which concepts we think are the best. Ideas can come from anywhere. For example, some Klutzniks were out to lunch one day and they started shooting the paper wrappers from straws at each other. After the floor was littered with paper and the laughter subsided, someone said, “That was really fun. I wonder how we could make it into a product.” And that’s how Straw Shooter Jets was invented. The final book includes information on the real-life airplanes that inspired our models, as well as a crash course (without too many crashes, I hope!) in aerodynamics—we explain concepts such as draft, lift, balance, symmetry, and vertical stabilizers. But the best part is that this is a fun new twist on a traditional, hands-on activity. That’s one of the things that I think Klutz does best.
Jeff Pinsker has been Vice President and President of Children’s Activity Products Division, Klutz of Scholastic Corporation since December 3, 2012. Jeff began his career as CEO of Amazing Events, a corporate event and practical joke company. He has served on numerous boards, including Infinitoy, University Games, Stanford University Hospital’s The Health Library, Educational Direct, Yoga Tales, The New Curiosity Shop, ePlay, and a retail clothing chain. His volunteer activities have included Big Brothers, The Health Library, Special Olympics, Stanford Alumni Mentoring, Stanford Fundraising, Rebuilding Together, and volunteering in local schools.