The world is quickly embracing STEM Learning for children’s toys and numerous startups are constantly appearing to fill that need. Tech Will Save Us is on a mission to spark creativity and imaginative play using technology. Dough Universe aims to help kids learn about the fundamentals of electricity through light, movement, and sound, with a Kickstarter campaign supporting three new make-it-yourself kits – creatures, instruments, and machines – that use conductive play dough and basic circuits.
Understanding Tech Through Play
“My inspiration for creating Tech Will Save Us was two-fold,” Bethany Koby, CEO, and co-founder told SnapMunk. “The birth of my child and the realization that he’s part of a generation that doesn’t know what a pre-internet world looked like. Secondly, seeing a laptop dumped in a trash can. As weird as that might sound, it was a moment of disgust and inspiration. I asked, why is it that tech products are disposable? Why is it that our experience of tech is so one-way when tech is so all encompassing? And how are we going to give kids a better understanding of tech? The only way to do it is through play. Combining play with the possibilities that tech adds to the experience is at the core of the Tech Will Save Us story.”
“The launch of Dough Universe on Kickstarter is the latest part of a journey we’ve been on to explore how the conductive properties of such a universally-loved material can be applied to STEM learning,” said Koby. “We started a couple of years ago with the precursor to Dough Universe, Electro Dough, and have expanded that product into a much richer experience that combines physical play with the digital experience delivered through our first app. The convergence of digital and physical has been a real ‘Eureka!’ moment for us. We know that most families are using tablets and smartphones during play time, but we saw an opportunity to combine that visual experience with the more tangible, inventive elements of physical play which play dough is so perfect for.”
Lifelong Learning Skills
As traditional jobs are lost to automation and AI, the need for lifelong learning skills increases to meet the needs of future, as yet unimagined, jobs. “Sixty-five percent of kids currently in primary school will have jobs that don’t yet exist,” said Koby with passion. “We believe that kids deserve toys, which will provide them with the skills that will help prepare them for the future. We hope that the Dough Universe will inspire our youngest generation to embark on a lifelong love of learning. As a parent myself, I feel it’s important that toys be educational and help children through key developmental stages, ensuring they’re not passive consumers of tech.”
While users play a vital role in the development of the Tech Will Save US toy range, the educational play elements are also informed by research from psychologists and education experts such as Jean Piaget, Seymour Papert, and Maria Montessori.
“Fundamental to our design process is the strong belief that kids should be creators of technology, not merely passively consuming the products and services that toy and tech brands often provide,” elaborated Koby. “Our mission is to produce toys that empower kids to learn the critical thinking, problem-solving, and creative skills to respond to and influence the world around them.”
“We’re guided by this research and the key child development milestones. For example, at 4 to 7, kids are exploring materials which aid dexterity and spatial awareness. Our new Dough Universe kits allow kids to explore through play dough, but in a much more creative manner because of the greater opportunities provided by the electronic controllers and inspirational ideas included in the app,” she concluded.
How It Works
Ever tasted play dough? If you haven’t – it’s salty! Since electricity just loves salt and water, it’s perfect for making electronic circuits.
The three Dough Universe kits are each sold separately or together. The Squashy Sounds Kit turns the plasticine into music instruments mimicking the sounds of a piano, guitar or drums, while the Bright Creatures Kit focuses on visual electricity in the created critters, giving the dough the ability to blink and flash with the help of LEDs and buzzers. The Electro Machines Kit encourages children to make their dough spin, move and roll by creating powered car units or helicopters.
The kits are designed to be created using everyday kitchen items and AA batteries and include many fun projects that will appeal to adults as well as kids. A personal fave is the High Five Machine made with the Electro Machines Kit.
To accompany the new products, Tech Will Save Us is also launching its first tablet app on iOS and Android to allow kids to use the digital world to bring the physical world to life. The kid-friendly app takes its users through a series of stories and challenges to guide play and show them how electricity works. Kids become the heroes in the story to bring the tech and dough worlds together.
The Kickstarter campaign, which has already received $55,564 pledged from 508 backers of a $50,000 goal, runs through July 5, 2017. During this time, individual kits will be available for a special ‘dough-nation’ of $40 each (the $40 Squashy Sounds Kit has sold out and is now only available at $45), while the trio of kits will cost $100. There is also a range of additional pledge levels for activity kits or donations to causes that range from $250 to $5000. Kits will ship in November – just in time for the holidays. After the campaign, each Dough Universe kit will retail for $49.99.
Gail is a Chicago-based food scientist who writes for leading US and European food and technology publications. A devotee of all things shiny, electronic and buzzing, with a passion for building on-line communities and conservation, she is an entrepreneur and founder of a sustainability and social media startup who moonlights on weekends as DJ Moongirl on Moonalice Radio. Clients range from rock bands and media companies to high-tech startups.
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