PERSPECTIVES: A Conversation with Claire Green and Wendy Smolen, Co-Founders of Sandbox Summitwendyclaire

April 9, 2012 | In 2008, Claire Green and Wendy Smolen launched Sandbox Summit – a series of conferences designed to address how technology affects the ways kids play, learn and connect. This year’s conference, Going Mobile, Going Global: Tracking the Anywhere/Everywhere State of Play, will take place April 17-18, 2012 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (registration for the Summit is now open.) Toy News Tuesday editors spoke with Claire and Wendy to gain some insight into how the mobile revolution has impacted the “tools” and “rules” of play.

TNT: What was the impetus behind launching Sandbox Summit in ’08? How did each of you become interested in and involved with research that studies the way 21st century children learn and play?

CG & WS: Both of us have been playing with kids’ toys for a long time, Claire as president of Parents’ Choice Foundation, and Wendy as a senior editor at Parents and Nick Jr. magazines. After Toy Fair in ’07, we were downloading over (several) glasses of wine and we realized that the majority of toys we had seen that year had chips in them. We like to say that was the moment we knew play had crossed the Digital Rubicon. Because play is the way kids learn, we created Sandbox Summit to explore how technology is affecting what they learn and how they play in the new digital world.

TNT: How has the conference evolved over the years to address the fast-paced advancements that have been made in the world of technology?

CG & WS: Every year we address a new theme. When we first started out, we focused on traditional toys with technology added. Then suddenly, tools such as computers, telephones and television became toys. Next “transmedia” became the buzzword and we looked at expanded platforms. This year, we see mobile as a huge area of growth.  Luckily we have a great network of experts at MIT as well as on our advisory board who keep us tied in to cutting edge innovations.

TNT: What can this year’s participants expect to take away from the conference?

CG & WS:  A sense that playful learning is serious business.

TNT: What can toy companies learn from the online/mobile behavior of kids, tweens and teens? How will this be addressed at Sandbox Summit ’12?

CG & WS: Without giving away the store, we can promise that we have three research studies that will be eye-opening for everyone involved in kids’ toys and media. Nickelodeon has fascinating data on kids and mobile; The Intelligence Group will discuss trends among Gens Y and Z, and Rick Richter from Ruckus Media will talk about research they’ve conducted on parents’ attitudes regarding screen time. Add to that, inspiring presentations and hands-on workshops by major industry leaders. It’s two full days of play…and that’s how kids (of any age) learn!

TNT: How have all of the changes in technology over the past 50 years (from radio and television to video games and the Internet) impacted play? How do you see current technologies, like mobile apps, contributing to the evolution of play?

CG & WS: Kids will always play. They’ll take what’s at hand---be it a stick, a stone, a ball, or an iPad. Play is how they make sense of the world. As more technology infuses their playthings and play spaces, they’ll explore it. It’s up to us, the grown-ups, to make sure that they get a balance of traditional and technological toys to nurture creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking.