“Super Wings” in Developing Essential Skills for Future Generations

This paper explores how the toy concept I finished at the end of the 2017 fall semester at OCAD University can have an impact on children’s psychological, cognitive, and emotional development. It includes claims and theories made by established researchers that not only support my toy design but also influence my decisions in the creation of the toy and the current state of its play experience. The design of Super Wings utilizes the concept of positive-driven design; a term suggested by Hillary Davis, Frank Vetere, Martin Gibbs and Peter Francis in “Come Play with Me: Designing Technologies for Intergenerational Play” (Davis et al. 17). Rather than compensating for disabilities or mitigating negative experiences, my toy design is consistent with design approaches that aim to build on human strengths and capabilities. Using Jane Baxter’s characterization of play (231) in “Adult Nostalgia and Children’s Toys Past and Present,” Super Wings is considered among toys that are educational and developmental, as it intends to prepare children for their future, mainly by introducing certain positive behaviour traits. Super Wings is one of a kind. Unlike many toys currently on the market, Super Wings’ play experience is a blend of creative construction and fantasy play. As much as it encourages creative imagination, Super Wings is also educational. It fosters forms of play around the concept of affirmative behaviour traits. Therefore, through its unique and engaging play experience, Super Wings contributes to the development of psychological, cognitive, and emotional skills of the children.

*This literature review helped me come up with a design solution that is Super Adventures. Click here to read my design process.

The Super Wings Experience

Super Wings, my current toy concept, empowers children by essentially giving them powerful wings. Each of the wings has a power that refers to a particular positive personal trait such as Bravery, Creativity, or Love. Based on the child’s personality, adults and children can decide which power they want to learn or have. To play with Super Wings, children choose a pair of wings from a selection of wings, which at the moment are the Super Brave, the Super Creative, and the Super Lovely wings. After choosing the wings, children, along with their friends and family can decorate the wings with fabric markers. During this activity, adults can encourage kids to think critically about the power and ask them to visualize it through doodles, colours, and writings. For instance, they may ask children what lovely means to them. By merely washing the wings, they can do such creative activities over and over again. Then, kids can channel the power, like being lovely, brave, or creative by attaching the wings to either a plush or themselves. The wings act as a symbol of power for children and a way to imply positive traits into their play scenarios. In addition, each of the Super Wings comes with matching tokens that children can give and receive called Super Medals. Text engravings on each of the medals act as words of encouragement; for instance, Super Brave, Super Lovely, or Super Creative. Children are encouraged to incorporate these medals in their endless play scenarios creatively. For example, children can interpret Super Medals as extensions of their power and they can give these medals as a way to cheer up or encourage their friends and family. They can also award these medals to the people that inspire them. Parents can use Super Medals as achievement badges when their children did something related to the power, too. For my next semester, I hope to explore the possible developments I can have for the medals and figure out the best way to make an engaging system where the medals are educational to the kids.

Combining Aspects of Creative Construction Toys and Fantasy Play Toys to Create an Engaging Play Experience

Super Wings encourages children to creatively negotiate their play experience from the rules given, which is a key aspect of creative construction toys. In “Imagination, Playfulness, and Creativity in Children’s Play with Different Toys,”Signe Moller (343) defines creative construction toys as toys that have goals, rules, and regulations and more focused on the sphere of reality – for instance, LEGO, sets, wooden blocks, and train tracks. The purpose is to provide children with tools and objects to create things on their own (Moller 343). This is the same with Super Wings, particularly with the creation and customization of the wings and the medal system. Super Wings allows children to ‘create’ their chosen wings. Although children are asked to either doodle, colour, or write things with the provided fabric markers on top of it, the possibilities of how they can execute the wings are endless. Similarly, Super Medals are essentially small wooden slabs with texts like “Super Brave,” “Super Lovely,” or “Super Creative” engraved on them. Although the medals’ predetermined designs create some limitations to play, it is how a child uses them that matters. In addition, the rules simultaneously provide parents a chance to remind their children to behave well. It is important to note that Super Wings have rules that are not rigid, but these rules are beneficial to the play experience because as Vygotsky asserts (quoted in Moller 323), play rules become the motive for action. That being said, Super Wings encourages children to negotiate based on the given guidelines creatively.

While the creative construction aspect of the Super Wings provides rules that children need to consider and negotiate, the fantasy aspect of its experience, as Moller (342) asserts, offers a “superfluous focus on the imaginative sphere.” The wings and the made-up plush of the Super Wings play experience relates to Moller’s (330) examples of fantasy play toys, particularly towards the concept of costumes and fantasy figurines. Like other fantasy play toys, Super Wings predominantly focuses on the sphere of imagination (Moller 330). In “Pretend and Physical Play: Links to Preschoolers’ Affective Social Competence,” Eric Lindsey and Malinda Colwell (331) characterized fantasy play by “an ‘as if’ orientation to the world and involves actions, use of objects, and verbalizations.” By wearing the wings or attaching it to a plush, Super Wings encourages children to imagine scenarios that revolve around the power and the wwings with the environment around them, whether they play by themselves or as they interact with others. This aspect of Super Wings, like other fantasy play toys, encourages imaginative play which therefore keeps a long-lasting play experience because of the endless play scenarios. According to Moller (322), creativity produces a feeling that gives children a sense of control, and this option in my toy play experience encourages the children to be the “co-creators of their world.” Connolly and Doyle (quoted in Lindsay and Colwell 332) found that teachers rated preschool children who engaged in more fantasy play as being better at effective role taking. As Schousboe (quoted in Moller 325) theorizes, it is important to note that spheres between reality to imagination exist in “dynamic interchange and are always present simultaneously; that is, children are never caught up in only one of these spheres.” Super Wings explores this dynamic interchange between reality and imagination through the juxtaposition of imagining the power from the chosen wings and doing real-life activities that revolve around the concept of the selected positive trait.


Developing a Child’s Psychological Skills Through Super Wings’ Transformative Play

The open-ended and fluid narrative of Super Wings is essential in children’s psychological development as it allows children to explore the various possibilities in play. Transformative play, as Moller asserts (326), entails a “developmental condition in which children can imaginatively try out suggestions.” Super Wings acknowledges the importance of children’s imaginations as although it provides medals and options of the wings, children determine their own unique play experiences. Thus, it is transformative. This concept helps to build new experiences every time they play. This possibility to imagine new play scenarios allows children to engage and transgress in creative ways. According to Moller (322), transgressions are the “novel acts children bring into play.” It is “important for a child’s sense of belonging, of being part of a setting” as it pushes the limits of existing play scenarios (Moller 344). In the context of Super Wings’ play experience, it allows children to think critically by exploring the different activities and possible play scenarios that revolve around the power they chose. For instance, in the beginning, a child might speak up for her friend to channel the ‘Super Brave’ power, but over time, they might speak up for friends who are bullied or treated differently at school. In a broader perspective, as Moller (344) argues, this concept of exploring in play suggests a possibility overtime to “transgress the limits of traditions.”

Although such play is transformative, it exposes children to the concepts of behaviours that are affirmative in a repetitive manner. By either wearing the wings or attaching them to the plush and play with it, children can apply their understanding of positive behaviour traits to multiple scenarios. Piaget and Vygotsky assert (quoted in Lindsey and Colwell 332) that some subtypes of play provide children with opportunities to practice their ability to identify and understand emotions.  I like to think similarly of the Super Wings play experience, as it helps children to develop the ability to understand concepts by acting them out with others. By acting out notions like bravery, love, and creativity in play daily, as Moller (326) asserts, they “become part of a child’s repertoire, which might be expressed or acted out in real-life situations.” This understanding is eventually implanted in the child’s mind, either consciously or unconsciously, with or without the wings, whether it is during or outside of play. As an example, referring to the previous play scenario of speaking up to channel the ‘Super Brave’ power, the child gains a further understanding of bravery early. As they plays with Super Wings and channels the ‘Super Brave’ power overtime, this concept becomes a part of their character. Later in life, they might speak up about issues like double standards or gender inequality in the workforce. In a way, Super Wings’ play experience is transformative and repetitive. Thus, the transformative play experience of Super Wings helps to build character to children, which therefore contributes to their psychological development.


Developing a Child’s Cognitive and Affective Skills Through Super Wings’ Pretend Play

Obtaining powers while wearing the wings or attaching it to a plush, according to Sandra W. Russ, Andrew L. Lobins and Beth A. Christiano (129) in “Pretend Play: Longitudinal Prediction of Creativity and Affect in Fantasy in Children” fit into the concept of pretend play which facilitates children’s divergent thinking skills. Fein (quoted in Russ et al. 129) defines pretend play as a symbolic behaviour in which “one thing is playfully treated as if it were something else. In the case of my toy design, the wings are treated as if it gave children actual powers. Guilford (quoted in Russ et al. 129) defines divergent thinking as an important cognitive process which generates a variety of ideas and associations to a problem. According to Russ et al. (129), children practices divergent-thinking skills by using toys and objects to represent different things and by role-playing different scenarios. In the Super Wings narrative, the chosen wings children are wearing are ‘magical,’ ‘powerful’ artifacts; it is no longer considered as plush toys. As Russ et al. (130) assert, this “expression of emotion and affect-laden fantasy” in pretend play could help develop a “broad repertoire of affect-laden associations,” which therefore facilitates divergent thinking. Additionally, Runco (quoted in Russ et al. 129) addresses that this type of thinking also parallels to one’s broad scanning ability and fluidity of thinking. Russ et al. (129) emphasize that pretend play is vital in developing creativity because of the cognitive and affective processes that occur during this particular play experience. Super Wings contributes to children’s cognitive development as it encourages them to generate ideas through thinking fluidly.

The Super Wings narrative also helps to facilitate the development of children’s affective skills, particularly in understanding emotions through their interactions with others. The narrative covers key components of Affective Social Competence (ASC), in which referring to Lindsey and Colwell (330), are useful in understanding the “emotional process that contributes to children’s development.” The three components of ASC, as Halberstadt, Denham, and Dunsmore (quoted in Colwell and Lindsey 330) outline, are “(a) sending affective messages, (b) receiving affective messages, (c) experiencing affect.” In Super Wings’ play narrative, children can give and receive Super Medals. Parents and children can utilize these medals in many different ways to imply the concept of motivation and affection during play as these medals carry universal behaviour traits. As they exchange Super Medals, children send and receive affective messages from each other. From the activities that lead to that moment, children experience the affection. Eckerman and Gottman (quoted in Lindsey and Colwell 331) assert that children use pretend play to initiate and sustain social relationships with peers. In a way, they can use Super Medals to generate and maintain interactions with others. Russ et al. (331) assert that these three components and how the children control and integrate them into their day to day life measure their affective skill.  This opportunity for an infinite number of emotional activities that can be experienced through playing with Super Wings, as Bretherton proposes (quoted in Lindsey and Colwell 332), becomes “a medium with unique qualities for enabling children to gain emotional mastery in a safe environment.” 


Target Audience

As the play narrative touches upon the concept of fantasy play and pretend play, Super Wings aims to engage children from the age of 2 to 7. In “Toddlers’ Understanding of Peers Emotions,” Sara R. Nichols, Margarita Svetlova, and Celia A. Brownell (36) assert that in the first year infants are “beginning to understand positive and negative emotion expressions as referring to objects in the world.” In “Pretend Play,” Deena Weisberg asserts that pretend play activities begin to appear around 18 months. Nichols et al. (36) assert that by 18 months of age, they may modify their behaviour based on the emotions they are learning (Ibid.). In the second year of life, Nichols et al. (36) point that children are “using emotion words and have become good readers of adults’ emotion expressions” and are aware of others’ mental states. Similarly, Fein (quoted in Lindsey and Colwell 331) indicates that fantasy play emerges during the second year of life. Fein (Ibid.) asserts that fantasy play peaks during the late preschool years and then declines, hence my decision in primarily targeting children between two to seven years old.

The educational aspect of the toy also hopes to attract parents to buy Super Wings for their kids. In “Having Their Say: Parents Describe Why and How They Are Engaged in Their Children’s Learning,” Karen L. Mapp (355) finds that parents have a desire to help their children succeed. Mapp (Ibid.) asserts that parents want to contribute in their children’s educational development, regardless of economic, racial/ethnic, and educational backgrounds. Super Wings is a great fit for boys and girls, since it is gender neutral. Super Wings’ play experience allows a possibility for parents to engage with their children during play, by either teaching them what the powers mean, encouraging them through Super Medals or suggesting activities that revolve around the power their kids are choosing. Through these various forms of family engagement, as Mapp (355) asserts, children receive educational benefits, one of which is positive attitudes. Thus, through the open-ended, educational narrative, Super Wings hopes to catch parents’ attention and influence their decision in buying the toy to their children.


Conclusion

Through its one of a kind play experience, Super Wings contributes to the development of children’s psychological, cognitive, and affective skills. Its ever-transforming narrative hopes to develop critical thinking skills to children. By playing with it regularly, Super Wings aims to play a role in building character for children. The notion of generating various play scenarios with the wings and the Super Medals intends to help kids to be more creative and to think outside of the box. By having meaningful interactions during play, Super Wings allows children to understand their emotions and others’. As  Mahatma Gandhi once said, “if we are to reach real peace in the world, we shall have to begin in children.” By implying positive behaviour traits to an engaging play experience, Super Wings hopes to become one of the many ways of building socially conscious generations of the future.


Reference Cited

Baxter, Jane E. 2016 Adult Nostalgia and Children’s Toys Past and Present. International Journal of Play. 5(3):230-243. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21594937.2016.1220046. Accessed 6 December 2017.

Davis, Hillary, Frank Vetere, Martin Gibbs, and Peter Francis. 2012 Come Play with Me: Designing Technologies for Intergenerational Play. Universal Access in the Information Society. 11(1):17-29. Springer. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10209-011-0230-3. Accessed 7 December 2017.

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Mapp, Karen L. 2003 Having Their Say: Parents Describe Why and How They Are Engaged in Their Children’s Learning. School Community Journal. ADI.org. http://www.adi.org/journal/ss03/Mapp%2035-64.pdf. Accessed 6 December 2017.

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Nichols, Sara R., Margarita Svetlova and Celia A. Brownell. 2010 Toddlers’ Understanding of Peers’ Emotions. The Journal of Genetic Psychology. 171(1):35-53. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221320903300346. Accessed 6 December 2017.

Russ, Sandra W., Andrew L. Robins and Beth A. Christiano. 1999 Pretend Play: Longitudinal Prediction of Creativity and Affect in Fantasy in Children. Creativity Research Journal. 12(2):129-139. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15326934crj1202_5. Accessed 6 December 2017.

Weisberg, Deena Skolnick. 2015 Pretend Play. WIREs Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science. 6(3):249-261. Wiley Online Library. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcs.1341. Accessed 6 December 2017.

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