Strawbees, a simple building tool for kids, has been years in the making. It started when founder Erik Thorstensson was growing up in Sweden, and he realized how expensive traditional toys were after his mother told him to make another Transformer himself, rather than buy him brand new one. Later in life, Thorstensson traveled to India for a community service project, where the kids he worked with took to playing with the volunteers' clothespins as if they were toy construction modules.
If rudimentary clothespins could inspire children to start thinking spatially and creatively, a sleeker--but still inexpensive--solution couldn’t be far off, Thorstensson thought. To build Strawbees, Thorstensson created a flexible, plastic building unit that’s shaped like a flat lollipop. One end is designed for inserting a straw and the other end can hook onto other yellow connectors.
“There is an almost infinite number of different ways of combining Strawbees, cardboard, and straws to achieve your idea,” Thorstensson tells Co.Design. “It's more of a prototyping environment than a 'set goal and follow instructions' system.” Put differently: the cheap materials and low-tech design make it easier to build big (Forts! Cars! Playgrounds!). So whereas other kits--like the colorful set of circuits and wires in LittleBits--seem intent on fostering a new generation of micro-computer scientists, Strawbees wants to inspire young architects.
Besides helping kids build bigger objects, Strawbees is geared toward teaching kids how to reverse engineer. “The flexibility of the system means that you can take a wireframe model from a video game, or a Formula 1 chassis, and recreate it…with your straws or scavenged cardboard boxes,” Thorstensson says of the company's “If you can see it, you can build it,” mantra.
Thorstensson and his fellow designers at Creatables have big plans for the modest Strawbees kit. They’ve developed an Infinite Kit that supplies schools with the materials to make the connectors out of recycled milk cartons or trashed packaging. (It costs $700, compared to $15 for a basic kit of 40 connectors, for individual wee builders). “If kids set a goal to build a 10-foot-tall Sierpinski Tetrahedron structure they will probably achieve this,” Thorstensoon says. “No need for expensive pieces.”
One last, important detail? Unlike like sharp-cornered Legos, Strawbees won’t hurt bare feet around the house--meaning fewer “#%*!” moments for everyone.
Check out the Strawbees Kickstarter campaign, here.