Engineering toys

How Does Rokenbok Teach Future Engineers?

Engineering toys from Rokenbok - photo of child with engineering toyPlaying with certain types of toys helps prepare children to understand technology and design.  Even stacking the simplest wooden blocks demonstrates the effects of gravity on the alignment of materials; an evenly stacked column can grow taller.  But, can a toy be designed specifically to teach engineering and architecture?  Yes it can!

Rokenbok was engineered to teach creative design. Two principals are at the heart of our engineering toy play system:

  • A Low Floor and a High Ceiling: Rokenbok is easy and fun, but builds strong, functional, working engineering toy buildings.
  • Try It! It Will Probably Work: creative experimentation with Rokenbok pays big rewards as children’s engineering ideas usually work out.

Engineering Toys: A Low Floor and a High Ceiling

We borrowed the concept of a low floor and a high ceiling from Seymour Papert, a renowned MIT professor and a seminal figure in the field of technology and education.  He set out on a mission years ago to determine a child’s optimum creative environment.  He concluded that an engineering toy presents the ideal creative environment when it offers a “low floor” and a “high ceiling.” 

A low floor allows a child to play with engineering toys without needing a lot of advance experience or knowledge.  Rokenbok’s ROK Blocks provide a wonderful example. Even toddlers with pudgy fingers can stack blocks and knock them down. What makes Rokenbok engineering toys ideal is that they also possess a “high ceiling.”  The same materials that built simple block structures become working rail and roadways, elevators and bridges, construction headquarters and Cathedrals.  A child’s first ROK block can be incorporated into engineering a complete interactive cityscape.  

Try It! It Will Probably Work

The focus of Rokenbok engineering toy design is on intrinsic value; how does it work?  The focus of most engineering toy design is extrinsic; how does it look?  By making appearance secondary, it left us free to look at how children would manipulate our materials and what types of experiments they would try.  We designed Rokenbok to make children’s ideas work.  What if I try to make the bridge longer?  What if the chute system delivers balls directly to the monorail?  Can I make a custom trailer to haul more crates?   

A Creative Building System for Children

What we discovered is that a creative building system for children has to be both highly flexible and constrained at the same time.  The highly flexible is visible everywhere in the engineering system: building beams become monorail tracks; roadways become the roof of a church; a bridge truss becomes a rail station balcony.  But, create too many special purpose parts, odd angles, or varied connectors, and creative experimenting becomes frustrating.  The trick was to balance flexibility with simplicity and functionality.  We worked harder on the design of every Rokenbok component to allow more interactions with less complexity and fewer parts.  The result is an engineering toy that makes creativity easy for both children and adults!  

And finally, Rokenbok machines inspire even more creativity.  It’s just more fun to engineer a bridge that you can actually drive over; a real working warehouse where a Fork Lift can do its job; a rail system that loads, transports, and delivers material.  We like to say that when the buildings done, the fun has just begun, as children control Rokenbok machines to interact with their engineering marvels.  Maybe more importantly, the vehicle interaction inspires their next idea and experiment, and the creative process begins all over again.

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