Uberstix: Fun Meets Function
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I'll never forget the look of pride on my son's face the first time he completed a construction set model on his own. It was a helicopter with less than 100 pieces,
but at five years old he was as amazed as I that he'd been able to follow the detailed instructions to create the model just as it appeared on the box.
There's something else I'll never forget -- the look of total defeat that followed his triumph the minute he tried to play with his new creation. The rotors broke into pieces as
soon as he picked it up and when he tried to replace them the based snapped off. We finally realized the only way to get the thing to stay together was to put it on display
on a shelf. His sense of accomplishment crumbled along with the helicopter.
Many other parents have shared this same frustration with the major building systems, but one parent, rather than accept defeat, decided to do something about it.
His name is Dane Scarborough, and he decided to change the entire industry.
Several years back, Scarborough bought a hang glider construction kit for his son during a family vacation, only to find after they built the thing that it was purely
ornamental. (It wasn't meant to fly.) A natural problem solver, Scarborough went down to the hotel restaurant, picked up some paper and a swizzle stick and built a
working glider. His son played with the paper model for hours.
"I thought, you know, when you build something, it should work," recalls Scarborough. "You should be able to play with it and it should actually work.
" Realizing that none of the construction kits available at the time did work, he adds, "I saw there was a huge opportunity to do a better job."
With Uberstix, he did just that!
A New Way to Build
With two goals in mind -- functionality, meaning kids could play with the models they built; and accessibility, meaning cost wouldn't be a barrier for kids
from all economic backgrounds -- Scarborough set out to design a new and innovative construction system. When he hit upon the idea of creating parts that
are compatible with reused materials -- plastic bottles, straws, paper clips, etc. -- he became an innovator not only in the construction toy arena but also in
the increasingly popular "green toy" market.
"We're the first toy on the market that rewards kids directly for recycling," says Scarborough, noting that his "scavenger" kits require a variety of commonly
discarded items as parts. "We didn't change anything to be at the front of the green movement. It was inherent in the philosophy of the company from day one,
in the accessibility and functionality. Green was the answer to that."
Uberstix's compatibility doesn't end with reusable items. Uberstix components are compatible with all major build systems, from LEGO® and K'NEX® to ZOOB®,
Zome® and beyond. I found this exceptionally appealing in light of the large supply of construction pieces my son had acquired over the years. (The "Helicopter Incident"
was the first of many disappointments with popular building systems, leaving us with a huge tub of various components in addition to those frustrating memories.)
"Every build system on the market has its own attributes," says Scarborough. "Playing with LEGOs versus playing with K'NEX, that's two very different experiences,
and playing with Uberstix is very different than either of those. The ability to play with all three and to integrate all three together, that's just cool."
Not just cool ... it's another great way to recycle!
Extending the Education
Scarborough believes that "building with any construction system is key to a child's development," and many experts agree. Children develop spatial awareness
and problem solving skills and get a hands-on introduction to basic physics and engineering. They develop patience, imagination and self confidence along with many
other important academic and life skills. And the best part is, they love doing it!
With a passion for the educational value of construction kits in addition to his passion for sheer fun, Scarborough includes some enticing extras in his kits to
extend the education.
UberArch architectural kits, for example, come with full scale blueprints to guide construction. "When the kids unroll the blueprints for the first time,
they're intimidated," he says, "and their parents are even more intimidated. The first thing they realize when they open it up is the blueprints are one to one scale,
so it starts to make sense right away." The first few steps, he adds, are simple and quickly executed, giving kids immediate success to spur them on.
"From there it takes them to an overhead view of (the completed first step), and all of a sudden, once they understand what the overhead view represents,
then the rest of the blueprints start to make sense and the light bulb goes on and they hit the ground running."
Soon after, he adds, "when the structure is well on its way up and the kids are just poring over the blueprints and actually building from them, it's fantastic.
The parents are ecstatic. They finally have proof that their kid is in fact a genius and the kid's self esteem has gone through the roof."
Other Uberstix kits include lab sheets to encourage young builders to experiment with and improve on the basic designs. "On the catapult," says Scarborough,
"building it is just the beginning." The kit includes twice as many parts as are needed for the basic structure, with suggestions for testing the catapult with
a longer arm versus a shorter arm, a flexible arm versus a more rigid arm, a fixed base versus a free standing base, and more.
"They write down what they think will happen and then what actually happened," he says. "It teaches them to run experiments and make improvements."
These types of experiments, adds Scarborough, introduce basic physics and engineering in a way that gets kids fully engaged.
"They're learning physics without a book shoved in their face," he says. "They're learning it through play."
(The) Play's the Thing!
It doesn't take long to realize Scarborough's creative spirit and passion for play are the key to Uberstix's innovative design.
"We don't deal with focus groups and test marketing and all that," he says. "The way we make decisions here is we play. I create kits that I want to play with.
" His method seems to be working. Uberstix are popular with kids and adults -- "We've got architects buying these and building them in their offices,"
says Scarborough -- and he's developing new kits all the time. Each kit is fun to build and fun to play with when the building is complete!
"I don't know the toy industry that well," says Scarborough, "but I know how to play."
At DiscoverThis.com, we're proud to carry a great selection of Uberstix building kits to encourage you and your kids to create what you see in your imagination
-- and play with your creations for years to come!