The playful design of the Frank Gehry-architected Stata Center on the MIT campus was the perfect setting for the 2015 Sandbox Summit that took place in on March 23 and 24 in Cambridge, MA. The adage that a child’s work is play was aptly captured throughout the event. The Summit provided a forum for a conversation about how technology affects the way kids play, learn, and connect. Attendees included content and product creators, researchers, educators, students, journalists and marketers from the toy, education and media industries. They all shared a common goal of creating engaging entertainment and educational products for the 21st century.

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The Sandbox Summit attracted an impressive roster of speakers who have focused their careers on thinking about the relationship of play and learning. Many of them shared heart-warming stories that illustrated the power of play in a child’s learning process.

Some of the key insights from the conference to consider when creating and developing content and products for children include:

  • The importance of soliciting input from children when creating products and content.
    • Stephen Turnipseed, President Emeritrus and Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships of Lego, stressed the need to ask ourselves, when developing something for a child, “What is the experience the child will have with this product?” Kids need to be part of the development process to insure a product is well-designed and age-appropriate for the child that it is intended.
  • Play stimulates kids’ imaginations and encourages them to create their own rules when it comes to free play.
    • Fun theorist, Bernie De Koven showed videos of kids who created their own innovative versions of how to play PattyCake, then got everyone at the summit on their feet to engage in playing the child’s game.
    • DK, an advisor on social media, encouraged everyone to have the freedom to play without judgment and invited the audience to join in a Happy Dance.
  • Kids can excel when learning through hands-on play and experiential learning.
    • Nirvan Mullick, Director of Caine’s Arcade and Founder of Imagination Foundation, shared the empowering story of his discovery of young inventor Caine, who used cardboard boxes and other found objects to create games and design an arcade experience.
    • Margaret Honey, President and CEO of NY Hall of Science, shared her results of engaging kids to learn complex science concepts, using apps and maker spaces.
    • Xavier Lopez Ancona, President of KidZania, shared stories about his kid-size, interactive city that provides kids with fun, real-life learning experiences as they take on a variety of roles in daily life. They work in the city and get paid for jobs such as a firefighter or ambulance driver.
    • J. Johnson, Producer/Partner, Sinking Ship Entertainment, showed amazing live-action shows where children designed and built innovative playgrounds.
  • Products are merging digital and physical play to engage kids in new play and learning experiences.
    • Mattel’s Bert E. Reuter III, Associate Manager of Digital New Media and Emerging Technologies, was on hand to talk about how Mattel’s classic Viewmaster toy partnered with Google to create an innovative play and learning experience with Augmented Reality where kids are in immersed in an imaginative and interactive learning environment as they take virtual field trips.
  • Research studies and discussions on the impact of digital technology on kid’s lives shared insights for content creators and marketers.
    • J. Alison Bryant, Co-CEO and Chief PlayScience, shared research conducted with 501 parents with kids ages 2-9 years old. Her findings included the startling revelation that some parents preferred to provide boys more time on digital devices than girls and used these devices to ‘manage’ their sons.
  • Just Ask!
    • An empowering presentation from Susan Miller, Founder of Cupcake Digital, reminded the audience that truisms are as important as ever: failure is an important part of learning; put kids first; you can do anything want if you put your mind to it; and don’t simply follow your dreams, chase them.
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