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PHI Students Create Toys for Windsor Discovery Center

In one of their first assignments for an off-campus client, students in Loomis Chaffee's Problem Solving in Manufacturing, Society, and Entrepreneurship class designed and made toys for young children this fall in the school's new Pearse Hub for Innovation (PHI). Just before Thanksgiving, they delivered the toys to the Windsor Discovery Center — a town-operated early childhood education program and Montessori school — where the children enjoyed them immediately.

The toys were built as part of the class's curriculum, which focuses on problem-solving and designing to help others. Loomis' Director of Innovation Scott MacClintic '82 teaches the course. Scott was approached by the Discovery Center about creating toys using natural materials that could show cause and effect as at least one of the children in the infant and toddler room at the center had recently discovered light switches and that manipulating them would turn the lights on and off.

Before the students started brainstorming and designing the toys, they consulted with students in Manya Steinfeld's Child Development psychology class in order to better understand basic cognitive stages and object permanence. Once they had a better grasp of what a child might like to play with, they began to design the toys.

"I learned the importance of listening to all ideas during the brainstorming process," sophomore Andy Cao said, reflecting on the design process. "Even with the wildest ideas, the simple act of saying 'that will never work' stops the creative process and prevents the group from reaching the most awesome ideas further on."

Once the design phase was complete, students used tools in the PHI, including a laser cutter and automatic sander, to make the toys. After a few mistakes and several prototypes, the toys were finally completed and delivered to the Discovery Center.

"The students really had to listen to what the teachers were saying about what the children needed and to carefully observe how the children responded to their prototypes," said Scott. "They understood that they were not creating toys that appealed to themselves; they were creating them for the children."

When Andy and the rest of the students delivered their work to the boys and girls at the Discovery Center, they were able to observe and enjoy the kids discovering the toys and learning how to play with them.

"Watching the kids play with the toys was the most rewarding part of the project," Andy said. "I remember one specific moment when one boy was extremely nervous and started to cry when he saw all of us in the classroom, but after one of the toys was placed in his hands for a short amount of time, he became very interested and smiled for the rest of the time we were with him."