Kids and adults love toys. That is a fact. It was a special moment when, in our childhood, our tutors, parents, or family members would take us to a toy store to choose one. Still, to older days, it can be an exciting moment. Many adults still like to play with toys when grown, either designed for their age or not. And nowadays, besides going to toy stores, there is a brand new possibility: 3D printed toys.
3D printers are a thing for a while now. Technology had advanced to the point we can print whatever we want, and there is a lot of material we can use to do so. From bioplastic filaments to metal-like ones, it is possible to print chairs, cars, or even food. In medicine, researchers are printing ears, noses, and other kinds of prostheses. In fashion, you can print shoes, clothes, and accessories. The possibilities are endless.
Not many people might know, but 3D printing technology is a bit older than some years ago when it became more accessible. The first 3D printer in its full force came to life in 1984, created by Charles Hull. A few years later, he created 3D Systems Corp. and started selling the technology – in the 90s, for example, buying a 3D printer would cost more than a million dollars. Today, some simple models cost less than a thousand.
Considering this advance, and the lessening of its cost, buying a 3D printer to use at home is becoming a popular trend. Many people are creating 3D printed toys for their kids or for themselves from their 3D printer. It is becoming so popular that toy companies are already considering or launching their own printer for printing their toy lines, like Mattel.
Create your own toys
Mattel had announced that the company is expected to launch a 3D printer children-friendly for printing toys at home. The device is being made with a simplicity that even a kid or someone not that intimate with technology would find it easy to use. The printer has a door designed to not open while the machine is operating, making it safer for kids to be around. They also designed a mobile app that allows the children or adults to select which toy they would like to print. The design is sent to the printer without the need for a CAD Software to configure the measurements, so in some moments later, the kid only needs to take it out from the “oven.”
The company had decided to name it ThingMaker, a homage to a popular toy from the 60s, where they sold a little oven that kids could “print” their own toy. The also called Creepy Crawlers would come with a special liquid, some type of rubber, and molds of little bugs. The only thing the children needed to do was add the material to the mold, put it in the oven, and wait. After some minutes, the rubber would solidify, and the kids could play with the home-made toy as they wanted.
ThingMaker is not the only printer designed for kids to play. Toybox is a similar printer that impressed people on Shark Tank. With a simple yet effective design, the printer can be used by kids through a simple app. They download it and access a very user-friendly catalog of toys that can be printed, so the children do not need to design them on a CAD Software. Like ThingMaker, Toybox allows users to send their own designs to the printer directly from their app. One of Toybox’s best features is its sharp precision, which lowers the demand of using a knife or any other tool to soften its edges. No matter the choice, both printers are a very interesting option to have as a way of stimulating kids to learn design and engineering from a young age.
On the internet, it is easy to find models ready to be printed. You can print LEGO® pieces, bobblehead dolls, articulated figurines, and much more. You can check this list of some of what you can find online to be printed.
One of the possibilities of 3D printed toys is LEGO® like parts. Commonly found on the internet, you can print little blocks for playing, and also create your own for building unique designs. LEGO® blocks are amazing for stimulating creativity. The player must build their objects from scratch, and printing their blocks means endless possible designs, from a simple boat to a huge dragon.
If there is a toy collectively liked by kids and adults, they are figurines. Figurines are toys made to look like characters from movies, series, cartoons, etc. Nowadays, there is the possibility of printing your own self. Using a 3D scanner, you can print a selfie and make a little figurine of you – and whoever else is in the picture. And you do not have to be printed only in the position of your selfie. Using CAD Software, you can play around with it and change it as you like, adding costumes, clothes, accessories, and whatever you would like.
One of the best ways to have fun while stimulating our brains is to solve puzzles. Besides being a mental exercise, puzzles help developing better visual-spatial reasoning, attention to detail, improves memory, and so many more benefits. With a 3D printer, you can print many interesting puzzles, like assembling a piece of art or objects and figurines. You can, too, get creative on how you want the created puzzle to work – for example, you can 3D print a cryptex to store money, objects, or whatever you need. Or you can 3D print dinosaurs’ skeleton parts and assemble them to build a sculpture.
With 3D printing, you can also recreate some board games from your childhood that are not around anymore. For those who like to play Role Playing Games, a figurine can also represent a character, object, or monster. You can print chess pieces of your favorite cartoon! It is very easy to find 3D printed board game models online, too, and assembling them is even easier. When they are a bit more complex, normally, their creator uploads instruction videos. You can even create your own board game with a bit of imagination.
3D printed toys are already achievable, and it is full of opportunities. It is a cheaper alternative to many expensive toys – and can bring a lot of joy to children and adults, stimulating their creativity. And they can be a very powerful tool for educators out there.
Education and 3D printed toys
As mentioned, 3D printed toys can be very educational. Babies and toddlers are, for example, on a process of learning coordination. Their little hands and feet are starting to move accordingly to expected, and the use of toys is essential at that moment. Older kids can learn and develop physical and psychological skills during the play. While having fun playing with each other and interacting with the toys, the children are experiencing constant challenges to their abilities.
Parents, tutors, and teachers need to understand the importance of toys and playing in a children’s life. They learn how to interact with each other and the world. Some of the learnings are:
While playing, children learn how to interact with each other to reach a common goal. They learn that, sometimes, they need each other to make playing more fun. It can be on building a sandcastle, creating a story with figurines and dolls, or having tea together.
Through toys and playing, the children learn how to concentrate, have better emotional control, and interact respectfully. Nevertheless, they also start to understand that, as a society, there are some rules that they need to respect – even those created exclusively for that game.
Kids develop a sense of self while transitioning from a baby to a toddler, at the moment when they learn that they are part of the reality. However, they also become self-centered, as they are noticing how the world works. Most of them have some difficulties learning that we can share our things, and they can be taught through playing. They can be shown that if they share their toy or allow someone else in their game, they can have a lot of fun together.
Besides learning that being in a community is important and that they need to think about how others feel, they also learn a sense of self. In contrast to the previous topics, the kid also needs to learn that they are an independent person. While playing, they learn they need to stand up for themselves if they want to achieve their goals while sharing and working in a team. It shows how to reach a balance.
However, it is not possible to be stressed enough about how toys are also made for adults and that it helps them develop skills as well. Playing is a way of creating another world, one that is different from ours. It helps us assimilate concepts better, like what happens to children when playing around. Many educators use toys to create this fantastic world, and it shows an effect in the long run.
Universities use of that tool many and many times. A future dentist can learn about our mouth through interacting with 3D printed toys simulating our mouths. Meanwhile, in Engineering, they can simulate and learn about and interact with physics laws while playing. And so on.
It is quite clear that toys are important to education because they stimulate curiosity and help people to assimilate concepts easier. 3D printed toys are a cheaper way to have access to that ludic form of education.
3D printed toys and social inclusion
Social inclusion is a process in many dimensions to guarantee everyone has the same opportunities and access to rights and responsibilities, accomodating any kind of diversity. But what do toys, or even 3D printed toys, have to do with it? Everything.
As mentioned before, toys are a tool for educating people, either children or adults. However, for a long time, the toy market was not very inclusive. They did not have a diverse set of toys that would include people of color, people with disabilities, and so on. The problem here is that most kids – and adults – have a certain particularity about themselves – either about their bodies or their minds. Many of them could not relate to some toys at all.
For a kid, being able to relate to their toys is an important feature. It is the sense of connection with those toys that helps them develop consciousness about belonging in a community and being important to it. Representativity empowers them to understand that they are seen. For a black kid, owning a black Barbie® doll can change their perspective of their black skin. Unfortunately, there are people of color growing up hating the color of their skin because racism still exists and has a huge impact on their lives. For a white kid, seeing toys with other skin colors is a reinforcement that everyone belongs to society without hierarchy – it increases empathy in a racist world.
The same can be said about toys for people with physical or mental disabilities. The sense of being as normal as any other kid is essential for a mentally healthy disabled kid. A little 5-year-old Brazilian girl named Antonia was thrilled to receive a disabled Barbie® doll that needs a wheelchair as a gift from her aunt. Antonia has spinal muscular atrophy, a rare degenerative disease that compromises her motor coordination. Later that year, she also received a Barbie® doll that wore prosthetics. They are her favorite toys, according to her mother. She is very careful with them and teaches her colleagues how to use them while also teaching about her disabilities.
For a long time, there were no (or a very few) representative toys. Some toy companies that had a catalog directed to educational purposes – not huge companies like Mattel – would have inclusive toys. Recently, Mattel had announced they would include inclusive Barbie® dolls to their catalog. Now, it is easier to find a Barbie® that uses a wheelchair or that wears a prosthesis. And they come in every size, hairstyle, and color too, which is a great advance in the toy market.
Nonetheless, it is important to be reminded that the toy market is directing at 3D printing nowadays, as it is part of our next technological revolution. As mentioned before, the possibilities with 3D printing are endless. And 3D printed toys are a very good advance for people with disabilities.
With a 3D printer, it is possible to adapt existing toys to a disability. For example, it is possible to adapt a Rubik’s cube so a blind kid can play with it too. You can print numbers in Braille, or numbers of the dice, and glue it to the cube. The kid will be able to feel the numbers and play with it. You can also glue 3D printed words in Braille to other toys, and it will sharpen their sensitivity to the Braille code while having a lot of fun. Other types of adaptations can be made with a 3D printer, adding shapes, pieces, and tools to existent toys to facilitate their usage.
Even though it is not a 3D printed toy, there is also the possibility of printing a limb, which helps a kid or an adult to use a toy. Prosthetics can greatly help the daily life of a person with a disability, and 3D printing prosthetics can be cheap and fast. While common prosthetics can cost more than a thousand dollars, you can simply download a prosthetic hand or leg model and print it for less than a hundred. Even kids are learning about modeling prosthetics.
In 2016, Calramon Mabalot 3D printed a functional prosthetic hand for a local teacher. He always was interested in technology, having a YouTube channel to showcase his creations. Mabalot met Nick, who needed a prosthetic hand, and took the challenge to his heart. With the help of his brother, the kid designed, printed, and assembled a finger functional prosthetic hand to Nick. Why did he do it? “I like learning it,” Mabalot said.
3D printed toys, and 3D printing in general, can make a great difference in how we interact with toys. With its long history of aiding people to learn and develop skills, 3D printing facilitates their creation. Children will be able to think of toys they would love to have and simply print it from their own homes, in any shape or color. Meanwhile, children with disabilities will be able to play with toys designed or adapted for their specific needs. It is revolutionary and inspiring.
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