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AMS Spring 2023

Release Your Inner Child and Play with 3D Printed Replicas of Einstein’s Building Blocks


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Did you have a favorite toy as a child? I had many favorites growing up, but the first was this little rubber Grover from Sesame Street with bendable arms and legs; I carried him everywhere. According to research, the act of playing is extremely important for children’s learning and development, as it’s the most fun, natural way for them to work on important life skills like communication, creativity, emotional intelligence, problem-solving, and teamwork.

An organization called the Real Play Coalition, between Unilever, the LEGO Foundation, the IKEA Group, and media partner National Geographic, wants to protect and prioritize play, to help teach and usher in tomorrow’s disruptive thinkers. With that in mind, Unilever CEO Paul Polman, the LEGO Foundation CEO John Goodwin, and IKEA Group President and CEO Jesper Brodin officially launched the Real Play Coalition today at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“We believe play is a serious business and is fundamental for learning, development and creativity,” said Brodin. “The Real Play Coalition is about helping break down barriers and giving the world the tools, confidence and inspiration to play – starting today. We couldn’t be more excited.”

While an event centered around discussing the future of mankind may not seem like the appropriate venue for child’s play, the members of the coalition believe that the world needs more geniuses, and that the best way to get them is by putting play first. That’s why they brought 3D printed replicas of the toys one of the most famous geniuses in the world played with when he was young.

As a child, theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, one of the greatest and most creative minds in history, built many complicated structures with his much-loved set of Anker-Steinbaukasten blocks, which were designed to help children develop their manual dexterity and tactile senses, along with stimulating creativity, imagination, and three-dimensional perception.

To highlight the importance of play, the Real Play Coalition is letting participants at the World Economic Forum play with the toys that inspired Einstein. Not only did they bring along the original wooden box of building blocks that Einstein played with as a child, but they also 3D scanned the box, along with the set of blocks inside of it, to create exact 3D printed replicas of the toys for people to play with.

“Play’s power to shape who we are and prepare us for a bright future hasn’t changed, and its crucial link to children’s development and learning can’t remain unrecognised,” said Goodwin. “Yet education systems are too focused on standardized testing and knowledge retention –  instead they should be focusing on developing creativity, problem solving and emotional intelligence which are fostered when children learn through play. At the LEGO Foundation, we’re deeply committed to putting a stake in the ground for how critically linked play and learning are.”

According to George Land’s Creativity Test from 1968, 98% of 5-year-old children score at the creative genius level, but that drastically drops to just 30% by age 10. The Real Play Coalition wants to figure out what happens to all of a child’s playful creativity in those five formative years, and address the issue head on. The group is creating a movement that will highlight just how important play is for children.

“Many of the challenges the world faces require us to change how we operate – from business to governments to our day to day lives. Many of these new approaches have not been identified,” said Polman. “To develop them we need to ensure that future generations remain creative thinkers and are able to work across borders and across cultures to ensure a brighter future for all. Real Play, that encourages children to engage with and grow from the world that surrounds them, is key to this.”

Children all around the world are spending less time playing, and more time in a traditional academic setting. In addition, with the advent of cell phones and their many games, more children are spending their precious play time staring at a screen. According to the Play in Balance report by Persil, which is part of the Dirt is Good campaign, maximum security prisoners spend more time outside than the majority of kids today, and 61% of children have stated that they don’t actually know how to play without technology.

As someone who grew up spending countless hours playing Kick the Can outside with the kids in the neighboring cul-de-sac, these statistics break my heart a little. That’s why I love reading about 3D printed toys and games, and especially about 3D printers and robots that kids can use and make themselves: they’re still playing, but they’re also exercising the creative side of their brain.

The Real Play Coalition is inviting academic, corporate, and political leaders to help them promote and protect real play for children. Additionally, the Coalition also wants to develop a set of actions that include a multi-city examination of the socio-economic impact of play, and the lack of it, along with focusing on increasing play opportunities for kids. They are also inviting attendees at the World Economic Forum to release their inner child, and play with 3D printed replicas of Albert Einstein’s building blocks.

If you want to join in on the fun, you can download the Real Play Coalition’s 3D printing kit and make your own 3D printed replicas of the blocks.

What do you think of this initiative? Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts below. 

[Images provided by The Real Play Coalition]


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