Developing a toy that's developmentally appropriate

Photo by woodleywonderworks, used under CC 2.0

Photo by woodleywonderworks, used under CC 2.0

Why did three (more or less) responsible adults upend their lives to make Linkitz? Because it’s fun!  Obviously.  But since I'll need at least one more reason to make a proper post out of this, we're doing it because Linkitz is the kind of toy that we love: the kind that helps kids grow and develop.

We all have toys that we remember fondly.  Sometimes it’s an attachment to the object itself. Somewhere I still have the plastic turtle that sat on—and that I thought was much more fun than—my grandparents’ piano.  With other toys, what sticks with you isn't the object, it's what you did with it. 

For me this was a junior carpentry ‘kit’ that I got when I was four or five.  It was a home-made kid-sized wooden work bench with a box full kid-sized hammers, chisels, saws and drills.  Don’t worry!  They were all hand-powered; even on a farm, four years old is considered just a liiiiitttle too young to use power tools without supervision.  I don’t have any of those tools any more; I don’t even remember what most of them looked like.  What I remember is what I did with them. The feeling of excitement and satisfaction at being able to make things, to change things, and to affect my environment was thrilling.

I remember that feeling so vividly because it was an important milestone.  For kids around that age (say Pre-K to grade 2), developing a sense of autonomy is their biggest challenge.  They need to test their abilities and to assure themselves that they are capable of changing their world. In a kid's mind these years are a constant tug-o-war between the thrill of proving their autonomy and the shame and helplessness they feel when they fail to do so (shout-out to Marina Bers, whose book Designing Digital Experiences provides at least ¾ of that metaphor).

I see Linkitz as an updated version of that kid-sized workshop.  It’s fun to play with, but it also gives you the tools to build something, and to put your stamp on the world.  And that can be the most thrilling way to play of all.