It's time to say bye, bye to the Solar Roller

Three enthusiastic kids tried out the solar roller last month!

The verdict: it’s a lot of fun, but too difficult to put together on their own.

Going into the playdate, I wanted to see how the kids responded and interacted with the toy. This was the first time a child played with one, so it was more of a first time experience for me. But what I learned was invaluable.

On reflection, I kept my goals for Bright toys in mind - helping girls gain confidence in their problem-solving skills.

I want girls to be confident in their problem-solving skills. At the same time, I want to give her the option to be girly. You can be girly and clever. I believe better toys for girls will improve their childhood development and give them more options later in life.

In addition to these goals, I also took into account these two common themes parents brought to my attention during my research project at university:

  • Ideally, children should be able to play independently, without handholding from their parents.
  • New toys should integrate with children’s other toys. (Is this starting to sound like Toy Story to you?)

With these criteria, I set out to create the solar roller. In my biased opinion, it is really cool - who wouldn’t love a toy that’s powered by the sun?!?!

The solar roller soaking up some sun with some pumpkins

The solar roller soaking up some sun with some pumpkins

Playdates and Solar Rollers

But then, I let the judges, er, children, - ages 9, 11 and 14, have a go. They all thought it was fun, but the youngest two, who are in the age group I want to build toys for, both needed a lot of help. Straight away, this was cause for concern. They needed help putting the physical and electrical pieces together. Because they received extra help from me, they learned a lot more than the 14-year-old. The 14-year-old followed the instructions and was able to get it all put together in just under 2 hours. The teenager has fine motor skills the younger children haven’t mastered yet.

A lot of good came from our playdate. They enjoyed tinkering with the LED and solar panel. Just by connecting the two, they could see how different amounts of light would make the LED brighter or dimmer. They liked the immediate feedback - as evident from them running back and forth from the window for 2 hours! They also raced their toy cars with their solar rollers (the solar rollers won!). Most of all, they had fun decorating the boxes - the youngest decided to do her own design for the body and not follow the instructions, and it worked!

This was a huge learning opportunity for me. Younger children have limited fine motor skills - something I didn’t even consider going into this. I set out to fix this by having the electric components pre-assembled. Doing this increased the price significantly and took the experimental elements out of the toy - a lose-lose in every way possible.

So, I needed something simple and easy to build, but a toy that still encouraged experimentation and creativity. Luckily, I got a bit of inspiration during the Easter holiday duck races! Kids were making their own ducks with googly eyes. And I thought, why don’t they just add some LEDs. And that’s just what I’m doing. Googly eyes, crafts and LEDs! So this is where I need your help. What should the craft be? Let me know what you think in this super short, one minute survey.

Evidence of foul play during the races...no wonder mine was last! Photo credit: Mike Smith

Evidence of foul play during the races...no wonder mine was last! Photo credit: Mike Smith

Crafting Playdate - Sheffield

If you live in or near Sheffield, I’ll be hosting playdates over the next few weeks.  Children will be able to make 'Save the Bees' pendants and add real electronics to their artwork! You can sign up for the first one here :)