Teaching Self-Regulation Through Smart Toys

Many toys have educational value, but have you ever heard of a smart toy? Smart toys are different from traditional toys in that they often include tiny computers that allow them to track data or provide feedback to kids as they play. The New Mission Ventures team, in partnership with Professor Katherine Isbister of the University of California, Santa Cruz and Petr Slovak of the Institute of Design and Assessment of Technology in Vienna, Austria, is exploring how smart toys might help teach social-emotional learning skills.

We plan to conduct research to lay the groundwork for developing smart toys that give feedback and facilitate self­-regulation in everyday settings that involve kids and families. Special toys, often referred to as “fidget toys,” are already commonly used to help kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism manages attention and arousal. Lower prices and smaller computer components and soft sensing materials make developing smart toys for this purpose a near-­term possibility that could be valuable for supporting kids and families.

Our research is addressing the following questions:

How might smart toys appeal to 8­- to 10-year-old children? What objects do children already carry and cherish?

What can/should smart toys sense and what sort of feedback would be useful for self­-regulation?

What physical manipulations and fidgets do children already engage in with toys that could be tracked with available sensors?

How could smart toys fit into existing parent-­child or teacher-student interactions?

We will be learning about when and where adults and children already talk about self-­regulation and looking for opportunities to improve these experiences with carefully designed feedback that addresses the needs of parents, educators, and children.

We also plan to identify a set of promising design ideas, drawing on a participatory design workshop with families aimed at generating sketches of what smart toys could look like using current and near­-term viable technologies.

Stay tuned to this blog for updates as we complete our research and share our findings.