Musings on Whatever: ‘Toy Design and Inclusive Play’

A friend referred to me a call for application for a Creativity Workshop dubbed, “Toy Design and Inclusive Play.”

I know how creativity and the element of fun are instrumental in education and advocacy work so I thought the workshop would be very relevant to me especially so that I’m exploring how to further use creativity as a tool for my advocacy for the environment. Plus, this friend mentioned it’s one of the best workshops she has attended so you can imagine how ecstatic I was when I learned that I would be part of it.

After 20+ hours of travel time, including layover, I reached freezing Berlin which was the venue of the workshop. I was brave to just bring with me a thin piece of coat which thankfully helped me survive the cold. Aside from the temperature, a rice-eating Asian like me, and that sounds stereotypical but yeah, I had to get used to a lot of bread and cheese as the staple. I, surprisingly, adjusted quite well.

The event started with a symposium where we had resource speakers who talked about inclusion, fairness and sustainability, toy-free time, and education without prejudice, all in the context of toy design.

The participants were also given a chance to talk a bit about ourselves and the work that we do. I was inspired to hear the stories of every one. I thought we were a bunch of passionate and creative people and I was excited to see what games and toys we would create as an output of the workshop.

The workshop participants with the mentors and organizers. (Photo Credit: Surabhi Khanna)

We had to visit different institutions that cater to people with special needs. I went to Helene Haeusler School, a special school with the main focus on mental development.

It was an impressive facility with small-size classes and sufficient teachers. The curriculum is child-based and is adapted to the learners. There’s a pool, a recreational hall, a kitchen (where students can learn how to cook), a sleeping room, and so much more.

Seeing all these made me realize how it’s miles apart compared to the Philippines but it also made me appreciate the little steps we are taking and the efforts we are putting as a nation into being more inclusive.

Everyone then started coming up with ideas and toy designs based on the respective visits that we had. It took us almost a week to work on our masterpieces and it was amazing to see all our creation come to life.

I paired up with Cinzia, a designer from Italy, and the collaboration made life easier for me. I was intimidated at the beginning considering that I didn’t have any design background but I was happy to be able to keep up. Cinzia and I built on each other’s ideas that resulted to two toys – “LeafBall” and “Koordi.”

“LeafBall” is a tactile toy that promotes communication skills, focus and group interaction. It’s like story dice but in place of the dice, figures to be used in the story are hidden in pockets of leaf-shaped fabric to be folded on each other to form a ball. The ball is passed, the leaf pealed, and a
figure that will form part of a collective story will be revealed.

“LeafBall” (Photo Credit: Cinzia Damonte)

“Koordi” (coordination), on the other hand, is a collaborative game where players hold the strings and move the board together to slide wooden rings into slots, one after the other, to form words.

“Koordi” (Photo Credit: Cinzia Damonte)

The UNESCO Creativity Workshop, organized by Fördern durch Spielmittel, was on its 18th installment and through the years has been spearheaded by Siegfried Zoels, who has done several initiatives related to people with disabilities.

A Dr. Seuss quote goes, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” I’m definitely smiling now thinking about how I’ve learned a lot about disability or rather how it should be seen not as inability; I got to work with a brilliant group of creative people; and as a bonus, gained friends for keeps! It was one of the best workshops, indeed.

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Author: Ryan Bestre

Environmentalist. Teacher. Writer.

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