Funded! This project was successfully funded on December 28.

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A wooden toy for 21st century learning… Get one of 1000 sets for K-12 students!

We did it! Our Kickstarter campaign was successfully funded! A huge thank you to our incredible supporters. If you missed the deadline, never fear, you can still get the Empathy Toy. Head over to shop.twentyonetoys.com for more info and to place an order.

Huffington Post - "Empathy is neither learned from textbooks, nor a computer screen. But it can be learned from play."

Fast Company - " Toys... can be the Trojan Horse to break through the structure of the typical classroom"

Ashoka - "Empathy, creative dialogue, and collaboration are often cited as essential for our age because they endure as valuable competencies in the midst of accelerating change. "

BetaKit - "Play unlocks skills that aren’t commonly taught in classrooms today — creativity, collaboration, and empathy."

How to play the Empathy Toy

 (See more great videos of the Empathy Toy at work/play right here.)

Empathy and play are how we learn.

Empathy and play allow us to understand different perspectives and imagine new possibilities. And isn’t that what great education is all about?

The Empathy & Creative Dialogue Toy is a 3D puzzle game that challenges players to place themselves in each other’s shoes. It’s an easy to use game that leads to surprisingly complex insights from its players. Each toy comes with domain-specific resources -- including minds-on activities, gameplay scenarios, and discussion topics. It's been designed with input from educators to help teachers, facilitators, and parents harness the educational power of empathy and play. The toy has garnered so much attention that it’s even been featured in two TEDx talks -- one on designing for empathy & communication, the other a rallying cry for play in our school systems. 

Why we need YOUR help, Kickstarter.

We’ve already delivered working prototypes to over 100 schools and learning centres. But due to their very limited run, these prototypes cost $400-$500 per set.

We’re incredibly grateful to the forward thinking organizations and educators who saw the value in what we’re doing and got us started by buying the limited edition sets - but the current price puts our toy out of reach for the vast majority of students.

Your contribution to this project will help us place a bulk order for 1000 sets, which will dramatically reduce toy costs -- and YOU can use this campaign to pre-order toys at a steep discount.

Our manufacturers are ready to go -- but we need your help to press play. (in this case, the play button is big and green... it’s at the top of this page!)

Communication is key - so please spread the word!

Empathy and play are all about communicating with others -- and we encourage you to do just that. Even if this product isn’t for you, you can give us a hand if you tell a friend, co-worker, family member, teacher, parent, coach, or facilitator about our little toy for big thinking and deep learning.

What educators have said about the Empathy Toy

If you'd like to hear more from the educators in our story, this is a good start:

Want to learn more about how teachers use the toy? Check out our Educators page.

Think this is the first toy revolution? Think again.

It's no wonder that teachers and students take so naturally to unlocking skills like empathy through play. Turns out that harnessing toys for a learning revolution is an old idea...

So, how does the Empathy Toy work?

We're glad you asked...
The Empathy & Creative Dialogue Toy is made of 10 beautifully crafted wooden toy pieces. Pieces have unique shapes, textures, and they connect in thousands of different ways. Each toy has 5 light and 5 dark pieces -- identical in every way except colour.

There are more than 50 ways to play in a wide variety of group sizes -- but here’s a quick summary of basic gameplay: A pattern is built with one group of pieces and is given to a player. They then have to instruct another player to recreate that exact pattern with the other group of pieces.

The challenge? Each player is blindfolded and has only their words to solve the puzzle.
 
Over 10-20 minutes, observers watch the challenge unfold, but may not speak. After the game, what they saw is compared with what the players felt -- as part of a rich debrief discussion. Entire play workshops can last under 30 minutes, or span to an hour, a half-day lesson, and more.

How does that unlock empathy, you ask?

(These are great questions, by the way.)

The puzzle can only be solved through collaboration, but the players are approaching the problem from very different positions. They need to help each other imagine what the other is working with, and figure out how to creatively communicate their instructions even as things get frustrating. By trying to understand the other and building a common language, they realize that their own point of view is only one among many.

We call that a "play metaphor" -- the way you play the game can be hugely revealing about how you communicate, think, and learn. When students debrief after playing, they explore and analyze what challenged them. For everyone in the room, the experience is intense and the feedback immediate.
Each toy package comes with 10 wooden pieces, blindfolds, and toy instructions with over 50 ways to play!
Each toy package comes with 10 wooden pieces, blindfolds, and toy instructions with over 50 ways to play!

Educator's Toy Packages include play instructions, learning goals cards and active listening sheets for students.
Educator's Toy Packages include play instructions, learning goals cards and active listening sheets for students.

What age group is the Empathy Toy for?

Because the toy is straightforward to use, children as young as 5 have experienced success with it. The discussions the toy inspires, however, grow in complexity with the age of the players. It has been used throughout K-12 education and by a number of organizations for creative professional development.

Empathy and creative communication don’t have an age limit -- 
so our toy doesn’t either!

Where can the Empathy Toy be used?

When we play, we can't help but be ourselves -- and our thinking is at its most fluid. The fun of the Empathy Toy’s games can be harnessed in any setting, so we've created two package types:

At-Home set

The At-Home toy set is ideal for people looking to bring something special to game night with family and friends. The set doesn’t require the in-depth classroom materials which come in our other toy kits, but still includes a map of play options for selecting varied game set-ups -- from pairs to large groups in multiplayer scenarios. An unconventional fun activity, and it might just lead to clearing the cobwebs off your thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills.

Educator’s sets

The main event! Our Educator’s toy sets come with a Kickstarter discount --down from $189 to $121-- as a thank-you to our early supporters in the forward-thinking education communities. (For details on classroom kits with multiple sets, scroll down to the rewards section.)

Sets come with a map of play options for selecting varied game set-ups -- from pairs to large groups in multiplayer scenarios. Additionally, all sets include classroom resources: minds-on activities, learning goal cards, an 80-page guidebook, active listening sheets, and debrief topics.

The core package we’re starting with is the Learning Foundations Edition. Playfully adaptable to meet the needs of kindergarten through grade 12, it’s flexible enough to grow with students throughout their studies. The accompanying resources help explore how empathy can be used to improve universal learning skills and unlock multiple intelligences.

Exclusively for the Kickstarter campaign, your Learning Foundations set will also include preview... materials from each of our other Empathy & Creative Dialogue Toy editions (currently in development), for workshopping discussions in domain-specific learning:

Language & Literacy Edition

Design Thinking & Entrepreneurship Edition

Social Inquiry Edition

Scientific Reasoning Edition

Health & Wellness Edition

Workshop cards from Educator's Toy Package including lessons on how empathy leads to insights in teamwork, leadership, design thinking, scientific reasoning, and many other lessons.
Workshop cards from Educator's Toy Package including lessons on how empathy leads to insights in teamwork, leadership, design thinking, scientific reasoning, and many other lessons.
Educator's Toy Package comes with an 80-page guidebook introducing Empathy & Creative Dialogue concepts, including when to use the toy, suggested lessons, workshops and what success looks like for your classroom.
Educator's Toy Package comes with an 80-page guidebook introducing Empathy & Creative Dialogue concepts, including when to use the toy, suggested lessons, workshops and what success looks like for your classroom.

Mass production the right way

We were incredibly lucky to have won the Spin Master Innovation Fund Award two summers ago, which meant receiving not only some financial support but also a good deal of advice from Spin Master Toys. They’ve been instrumental in helping us connect to reliable manufacturers who can uphold the quality of our original prototypes as well as the social responsibility benchmarks that we demand.

Lack of a solid supply chain is often the piece that dooms so many projects, and we're able save a great deal of time as well as avoid classic mistakes. (We’re already well into the home stretch of the final sample phase.)

Toy sample pieces... look at that quality!
Toy sample pieces... look at that quality!
 
We’re ensuring that our manufacturers are using FSC certified woods and we’ll even be making a trip down to the factory to meet with them the second we place our order -- to see the facility, ensure product quality and worker safety is upheld, and also to say hi so we can bring you the next story of how it all happens!

Our process so far...


Our life for the past year has been non-stop troubleshooting...
Our life for the past year has been non-stop troubleshooting...
... to solve a litany of design challenges...
... to solve a litany of design challenges...
 
... fine-tune our product...
... fine-tune our product...
... communicate the essentials...
... communicate the essentials...
... add a heavy dose of love...
... add a heavy dose of love...
... and see things slowly come to life...
... and see things slowly come to life...
... to put a beautiful, well-crafted learning tool in your hands.
... to put a beautiful, well-crafted learning tool in your hands.

Who we are

We’re a small but feisty team of designers, educators, coders, and business-y types all trying to push the boundaries of what social innovation means and what education can look like. We work out of a vibrant co-working space called the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto, Canada. We also have playtime (we call it R&D) most Friday afternoons if you want to stop by! ... Find out more about us here.

Where it all started

The Empathy & Creative Dialogue Toy was originally designed by our founder and lead designer, Ilana Ben-Ari, as her thesis project in Industrial Design at Carleton University. In collaboration with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, she designed the toy to bridge the communication gap between visually impaired students and their sighted classmates -- while teaching the foundational questions of orientation & mobility: “Where Am I?”, “Where Am I Going?”, and “How Do I Get There?”

Watch Ilana’s first TEDx Talk on the toy’s humble beginnings:

The toy has since found a vast array of applications beyond the special education niche, as mainstream educators began to see their own needs addressed in its game dynamics. From this simple abstract toy, we’ve come to discover the unique power of play in unleashing the potential of all minds.

See our latest rallying cry for playing on purpose:

Our inspiration

We don't think we're radical. We think we're reigniting a forgotten legacy. You may not know it, but serious play has deep roots.

Among our biggest inspirations is a 19th-century German inventor named Friedrich Froebel, one of the most important educators almost nobody’s ever heard of. He had his own toy revolution -- he was the creator of what we know today as Kindergarten. He was certain that play was a form of learning and belonged in schools, so he pursued that vision by designing a set of 10 toys – or “gifts”, as he called them. These inspired visionaries like Frank Lloyd Wright, Wassily Kandinsky, and Buckminster Fuller when they were young. We like to think that if dear ol’ Friedrich were alive today, he’d be pushing to see toys move up the school system -- from Kindergarten right through to high school and beyond. 

He’d also be working on the next generation of learning toys, for skills that schools have a hard time teaching. In his industrial era, those skills were cognition, memory, mental computation, spatial awareness, and analytical reasoning. But schools do a fairly good job of developing these by now -- and just about everything we consider an “educational toy” (from Sudoku puzzles to the LEGO we all love) is geared toward that side of our thinking. So when we think, “What would Friedrich design for these days?”, our answers are: empathy, creativity, collaboration, design thinking, networked learning, complex problem-solving, conflict resolution, and on down the list of 21st-century skills. … The toy for Empathy & Creative Dialogue is our first contribution to updating Froebel’s 19th-century toolkit.
 

Where we’re heading

The Empathy & Creative Dialogue Toy is just the beginning in a new category of toys we’re developing for 21st-century skills. We’re already busy prototyping our second toy for Failure & Resilience, and we can’t wait to start designing an entire suite of toys that tackle the many layers of abilities required for innovation, design thinking and entrepreneurship.

Viva la Toy Revolución!

 
 

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

We have a clear line of sight to the obstacles we'll need to manage over the next few months...

SHIP DATES: Supply chains to overseas manufacturers are always a challenge, along with navigating the import/export process. But we have immensely experienced partners at our side, and we will always keep you informed if things take longer than planned.

PRODUCT MANUFACTURING: Having gone through the process of making 100 handcrafted prototypes, we know how intricate our designs are and how accurate the production and quality control phases need to be in order to keep to our standards. We've established relationships with experienced contract manufacturers to mitigate the risk of delays and implement quality control to the highest level -- as well as to remain committed to standards of sustainability and ethical labour practices. Our manufacturers have taken our original sets, produced near-perfect samples, and are in the advanced stages of finalizing their large-scale process. They fully understand our production timeline, and things get rolling as soon as we reach this campaign's project milestone.

FAQ

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    THANK YOU! Shucks, any bit helps to start transforming education. We'll be sending you an exclusive video message from the Twenty One Toys team. VIVA LA TOY REVOLUCION!

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    DESIGNER'S SKETCHBOOK - Get the custom-made sketchbook we designed for ourselves and our team. Ideal for meetings and brainstorming -- full of big pages for bigger ideas. *****WORLDWIDE SHIPPING***** Please add to your pledge for... CANADA & US: $9 | EUROPE & UK: $15 | EVERYWHERE ELSE: $21

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    TWO DESIGNER'S SKETCHBOOKS + SPECIAL EDITION DOODLE - Get 2 of our custom-made sketchbooks; one standard and one with an original doodle from our design team. Ideal for meetings and brainstorming -- full of big pages for bigger ideas. *****WORLDWIDE SHIPPING***** Please add to your pledge for... CANADA & US: $9 | EUROPE & UK: $15 | EVERYWHERE ELSE: $21

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    AT-HOME TOY PACKAGE - Get this for family and friends to play the Empathy Toy in low-key style. Your package comes with a toy set, bag, blindfolds, PDF download on Empathy & Creative Dialogue, and a map of play options with over 50 ways to play! *****WORLDWIDE SHIPPING***** Please add to your pledge for... CANADA & US: $10 | EUROPE & UK: $40 | EVERYWHERE ELSE: $75

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    EDUCATOR'S TOY PACKAGE -- SINGLE SET - Get this package for deep learning and serious play in the classroom! Includes a toy set, bag, blindfolds, play instructions on over 50 ways to play -- plus in-depth lesson resources and workshop materials. ... You get our Learning Foundations Edition resource package, along with preview materials from 5 future editions of the package: Language & Literacy, Health & Wellness, Social Inquiry, Scientific Reasoning, and Design Thinking & Entrepreneurship. *****WORLDWIDE SHIPPING***** Please add to your pledge for... CANADA & US: $19 | EUROPE & UK: $49 | EVERYWHERE ELSE: $79

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    *** *** *** GIFT PLEDGE *** *** *** EDUCATOR'S SINGLE SET - Get this for your favourite classroom, school, camp, or after-school program! ... We'll send it straight to them when you give us their shipping info at the end of this campaign. Play it forward! *****WORLDWIDE SHIPPING***** Please add to your pledge for... CANADA & US: $19 | EUROPE & UK: $49 | EVERYWHERE ELSE: $79

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    AT-HOME + EDUCATOR'S -- LEARNING GIFT PACK - You get an At-Home toy set for yourself & an Educator's single set to give as a gift to your favourite teacher, school, or after-school program. *****WORLDWIDE SHIPPING***** Please add to your pledge for... CANADA & US: $29 | EUROPE & UK: $69 | EVERYWHERE ELSE: $99 *******If you'd like us to ship to separate locations, add shipping rates to cover each destination.*******

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    *** *** *** GIFT PLEDGE *** *** *** EDUCATOR'S EXPANSION SET - Get this for your favourite classroom, school, or after-school program! ... We'll send it straight to them when you give us their shipping info at the end of this campaign. Play it forward! *****WORLDWIDE SHIPPING***** Please add to your pledge for... CANADA & US: $29 | EUROPE & UK: $69 | EVERYWHERE ELSE: $99

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    EDUCATOR'S TOY PACKAGE -- EXPANSION SET - You get double the Empathy Toy pieces + travel tote for field trips... Enough to begin testing active play for sessions with class groups larger than 15. Twice the game potential of a single set, for extra class engagement around abstract-to-concrete thinking and serious play in classrooms! Includes bags, blindfolds, play instructions with over 50 ways to play -- plus in-depth lesson resources and workshop materials. ... You get our Learning Foundations Edition resource package, along with preview materials from 5 future editions: Language & Literacy, Health & Wellness, Social Inquiry, Scientific Reasoning, and Design Thinking & Entrepreneurship. *****WORLDWIDE SHIPPING***** Please add to your pledge for... CANADA & US: $29 | EUROPE & UK: $69 | EVERYWHERE ELSE: $99

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    MULTI-CLASSROOM KIT - Designed for the active, collaborative educators! Full of play possibilities for immersive game sessions simultaneously across large groups of over 30. Get 5 Toy Packages with resource materials from all 6 domain areas: Learning Foundations, Language & Literacy, Social Inquiry, Scientific Reasoning and Design & Entrepreneurship. ... Plus special resources for large multi-player game set-ups, cross-disciplinary bridging of 21st-century skills, and travel totes for field trips. *****WORLDWIDE SHIPPING***** Please add to your pledge for... CANADA & US: $49 | EUROPE & UK: $89 | EVERYWHERE ELSE: $149

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    *** *** *** GIFT PLEDGE *** *** *** MULTI-CLASSROOM KIT - Get this for your favourite classroom, school, camp, or after-school program! ... We'll send it straight to them when you give us their shipping info at the end of this campaign. Play it forward! *****WORLDWIDE SHIPPING***** Please add to your pledge for... CANADA & US: $49 | EUROPE & UK: $89 | EVERYWHERE ELSE: $149

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    HALF-DAY P.D. WORKSHOP - An immersive experience of play insights, simulations & debrief from the Twenty One Toys team of in-house facilitators and designers. For groups of up to 100 to practice and sharpen the elusive skills that are hardest to quantify and impossible to fake. Can be delivered on-site at your location or otherwise. (*For sessions outside Toronto, relevant travel charges will be added.*) ... Every workshop also includes takeaway materials, assessments for learning, and a Toy/Tool Package for Organizations -- yours to keep, for enduring play insights!

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    FULL-DAY P.D. WORKSHOP - An immersive experience of play insights, simulations & debrief from the Twenty One Toys team of in-house facilitators and designers. For groups of up to 100 to practice and sharpen the elusive skills that are hardest to quantify and impossible to fake. Can be delivered on-site at your location or otherwise. (*For sessions outside Toronto, relevant travel charges will be added.*) ... Every workshop also includes takeaway materials, assessments for learning, and a Toy/Tool Package for Organizations -- yours to keep, for enduring play insights!

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    TOY BOOTCAMP - Come meet the team at our studio & office in Toronto! ... and join us for a 2-day design retreat. You and up to 4 friends will get a hands-on workshop on how to design your own toy -- we'll walk you through our design process for abstract learning (lots of playing involved), and you'll even get to test out our future creations like the Failure Toy and more. ... Meals included for both days -- because how creative can a team be if we don't cook and break bread together? (Group limit of up to 5, just like for the Chocolate Factory.)

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