As the development of digital technologies accelerates ever-faster, more people are becoming aware of how our smartphones, tablets, laptops and other devices are taking us further away from interactions with the physical world, from physical activities – and from each other.
Adults can make conscious choices about redressing the balance. Children don’t have such options. They lack agency. Peer pressure, advertising, parental aspirations and a host of other factors keep them hooked to their screens, sedentary and immobile for long periods of time.
Developmentally, though, young children crave physical play. Given a few simple props, they will build forts, dens, shelters and hideaways from bedding and cushions, turn household objects and discarded items into anything from a sword to a ship and re-imagine unstructured outside space into the scene of an alien invasion or historical battle.
Currently, little innovation and human-centred design effort is going into developing physical play. It’s almost as if we expect kids to do that for themselves.
Densters are here to help redress that balance, taking one of the archetypal activities of young children’s physical play – den building – and reanimating it with a cast of toy monsters that also perform roles as super-useful den-building tools.
Densters are just one product of eight years of research, testing, playing, designing, prototyping and making by their parent(!) company Kidesign, which made the transition from research studio to product (kid-centred design) business in 2014. Kidesign focuses on conceiving, designing and manufacturing toys that facilitate learning through play whilst displaying the personality, engagement and design values to find a place in young children’s lives alongside their virtual digital activities.
Densters are a family of charming monsters, each one with a secret skill for helping children to build dens and forts. Cheekaboo is a strong, slightly naughty peg; Wizetta a smart bed sheet holder; Grumpo a door-stop with attitude; Snella a friendly big-mouth that can grip anything in her jaws; Hoopsta a noisy creature that bites and holds on tight; and Zigzies, mischievous little multi-purpose clips. On top of that, children use their imagination to hack the Densters’ original purposes and use them as bookmarks, bracelets, desk-tidies and much more.
Over the last year, Kidesign have prototyped the toys using 3D printing and they are now being produced in food-grade silicone rubber that is child-friendly and non-toxic. User-testing Densters with children aged 3+ showed great results in developing their creative thinking, skills and imagination. Densters were brought to life on Kickstarter in 2016, with almost 700 orders.
They are available online at www.kidesign.org.
Disclosure – this is a collaborative post.