Breaking out a vintage Star Wars playset to promote the Force for Change contest not only brings back memories but also serves as a reminder as to the importance of promoting imaginative, creative play for children.
Since 2014, Disney and Lucasfilm have teamed up with a variety of organizations that provide services for children in need as part of their annual Star Wars: Force for Change campaign. This year, their partner is FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a global leader in providing educational experiences in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math. This week, in order to promote the current campaign, Force for Change announced the “Build My Droid” competition that gives fans and artists ages 16 and up the chance to design a droid that could be included in a future story set in the Star Wars galaxy.
In order to help promote the contest, I broke out my vintage Kenner Droid Factory playset for some photos. The set contained a vast variety of pieces and parts that allowed you to use your imagination to create droids of your own design that could easily be found in the Star Wars universe. I opened the box and much to my surprise I discovered that several of my creations from childhood were still intact. As I took out the base, there was K-9 looking up at me (yeah, I know but his name made perfect sense to a nine-year-old).
In my Star Wars world, K-9 was a mechanic droid that worked on Luke Skywalker’s X-wing. He could stand on his front legs, turn his head around, and use attachments on his hind legs and back to work on the ship (and why not, his “tail” looked like a Swiss Army knife).
When I was a kid, I loved toys like this that allowed me to create. As an educator, I still love toys like this for kids because they encourage the development of the imagination. Of course, materials such as cardboard, tape, yarn, straws, paper clips, etc. can be just as useful. It was common for me to use empty milk cartons, yogurt cups and shoe boxes to make hidden bases for my action figures. I wasn’t the only one. I’m certain that at some point in your childhood, you did something similar. If not, then you’ve probably seen young children who will sometimes play more with the boxes that their toys come in than the actual toy itself.
Why do we do things like this? I firmly believe it’s because we have an innate desire to create; it’s embedded deep within our DNA, linked to our ancient past when creativity and imagination were needed to help us survive the day-to-day.
There’s a reason that the Maker Movement is so popular today. After years of living in a consumer culture in which things are made for us, many are ready to begin making for themselves. Books like DK’s Star Wars Maker Lab are fantastic and fun ways to tie this creative urge to learning. Yet never underestimate the power of learning with cardboard and duct tape and no instructions on what to build. Both Imagination.org’s Global Cardboard Challenge and Global School Play Day are wonderful organizations that promote imaginative play. If you’re not familiar with their work, check it out.
While I wish that Hasbro would make affordable, imaginative playsets for kids like this again, there’s always milk cartons and tape. As we design learning experiences for kids, and explore options for ourselves, let's unplug from technology, dust off the imagination, and break out that innate creativity again.