Making Toys that Serve: Engineering to Serve Children and the Community

Making Toys that Serve: Engineering to Serve Children and the Community

A group of Kettering engineers got to do work usually reserved for Santa’s elves recently. A manufacturing class made educational toys for pre-school students at the Flint Educare facility near Kettering’s campus. 

The partnership between college students and preschoolers came about on a serendipitous flight. Dr. Christine Wallace, VP of Kettering Global was sitting next to Educare's Dr. Elizabeth Jordan on a return flight to Flint from Chicago. Jordan has been working with children harmed by the water crisis and was looking for new developmental toys for the kids. This particular population Department Head for the Industrial Manufacturing Engineering department and his students set out to tackle the task. This isn’t the first time Dr. Grasman’s classes have used their manufacturing and engineering skills for projects that have some practical use and application. “Every term we design something. We’ve made coasters. We did cornhole boards one year. But, this is the first time we did a toy project.” 

The Kettering students began by visiting the Educare Center to see how the children interacted with the toys and how they played. Then began with initial designs. This was a unique experience for developing engineers to understand their clients before they design a product.

Dr. Grasman described the experience. “I think they enjoyed it. They got to tour the school and go into the classrooms. They were able to see the toys they currently play with and talk to teachers. They were able to see their environment. Educare has a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) room at the school where there are a lot of different science learning puzzles, so our students got to spend time there, too.”  

The staff at Educare is also excited about the potential of the students helping students partnership. An Educare spokesman said, “We, at the Genesee Intermediate School District, are excited to partner with Kettering University on a special project that will allow engineering students the opportunity to design and create toys for our infants and toddlers at Educare Flint. As part of their research, the engineering students visited our early childhood center and interacted with our children. This not only benefited the college students, but our students and staff saw individuals from the community take an interest in them and their learning.” 

The Kettering students returned from the visit ready to design their toys. The saw a need for nesting and stackable toys such as bowls and blocks of different sizes where smaller pieces can nest inside larger once and then be flipped over and stacked on top of one another. Dr. Grasman said students were also intrigued with the puzzles in the STEAM room. 

The students created 20 different toy designs including nested toys, puzzles with different shapes and colors, letter puzzles, gears, and planetary gears. They delivered the toys in March and then after the student interacted with the toys, the teachers provided feedback on potential changes. 

“I think we all think back to those preschool days when we were playing with blocks. I think for the students to go through the challenge of how to create puzzles and to make things that are fun but the preschool students can learn something from is good. In general, it highlights the way we learn. The children don’t have a preset determination of what the toy should do. They play and experiment. It was fun and creative for our students to build something a 3-year-old can play with,” Dr. Grasman said[WU1]. “We look forward to a continued partnership with Kettering University and its potential for raising awareness for the importance of high-quality early childhood education,” said a spokesperson for Educare.   

The Educare facility serves students from 6 months to pre-kindergarten. It partners with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Flint, Flint Kids Learn, Genesee Intermediate School District, Flint Community Schools, the University of Michigan at Flint, and now, Kettering University’s Industrial Manufacturing and Engineering department.