Educational Toys: Play & Learning, part III


One of the things that makes me feel so good about my work at Mattel is that I am playing a lot. Another of the things that makes me feel so good is that I am learning a lot. Especially about playing. Even more especially about the connections and distinctions between play and learning.

For example, suppose you were making an educational toy. A kind of question-and-answer type toy. There are questions on one side, answers on the other, and the task is to put the answers together with the questions.

As an educational toy, the fun of the activity is to do it right: to connect the right answer to the right question. But as a play toy, oddly enough, it's actually sometimes more fun to use the wrong answers, just to see what happens.

What makes this especially interesting, learning-wise, is that what makes the wrong answer so very much fun is that you already know what the right answer is!

At some level, the learning objective is reached and exceeded. Knowledge is being tested and proven. It's just not being demonstrated. At least not directly. Not in terms that a teacher could recognize or a test could measure.

Maybe there is something different about schooling. Something that distorts the connections between play and learning. Something that makes wrong answers wronger. Something that maybe wrongs the spirit of play and of childhood. Luckily, that's not our business.

Which reminds me of something we talked about last week at our staff meeting, about our mission at Mattel. Something our boss had to go at great lengths to help us make clear. Sure, the toys we make are educational. Sure, a great deal is being learned. But that really isn't the point. The point is that the educational aspects of our toys make them more fun to play with. We are not in the schooling business. We do not make school supplies. We make toys. We make things that make things fun. And therein all the learning lies.