Co.Design

Sign of the Times: Toy Blocks That Teach Toddlers Social Networking

Finnish designers give the short set a way to update their status besides whining and screaming.

Crying, yowling, whimpering: Evolution has already equipped infants and toddlers with myriad ways of communicating "status updates" to their parents. But let's face it -- they're pretty ambiguous. So two Finnish designers decided to expand kids' repertoire into the digital age by creating the IOBR: a classic block-sorting toy that also functions a bit like Twitter. So even if they can't yet read or type with their cubby little fingers, toddlers armed with these things can trumpet their current doings to parents and friends.

Sound like a harbinger of the apocalypse? Actually, it's clever and cute: pre-verbal tykes grab colorful blocks with icons for sleeping, eating, or brushing their teeth, fit them into slots to indicate what they're up to -- that is, what their parents are trying to get them to do -- and the IOBR then transmits the "status update" using a web service called Iobridge, which lights up the corresponding block-shape on an IOBR in another household.

The designers focused their efforts on simple morning and evening activities that bookend kids' days (and are parents' "toughest moments"). They claim the IOBR "can be used as a small game to motivate children to be more swift in their activities: 'Let's see if you are in bed before your friend.'"

They built the IOBR prototype out of an existing toy, the Brio Shape sorting box, to avoid introducing more clutter to the household. Magnets in the blocks activate sensors in the IOBR box that trigger the "status update."

So far, the two designers say that the IOBR is a big hit in their respective families -- especially among the girls. But does it portend future texting addictions? Only time will tell.

[Read more at PassiRipatti.com]

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