Waytoplay is known for their flexible roads that allow endless possibilities for open-ended play and encourage children to bring their toys together and imagine new worlds, play what they live on a smaller scale, and design roadways that lead to anywhere they can dream up.
In addition to their famous flexible line, they have also introduced a new, limited-edition line of cardboard roads, starting with a community helper themed set named Road to Recovery, an airport themed set called Runway, and most recently, the new city themed Downtown set. The Downtown set, created by Dutch toy designer Sybren Jelles, features a green city with bike lanes, pedestrian walkways, gardens, parks, and even more open-ended pieces with intriguing markings and patterns as well as new shapes.
Dutch designer Sybren shares about his creative process when designing Downtown, the newest addition to the waytoplay family. Sybren grew up surrounded by creativity, with an architect and sculptor as parents as well as a constant stream of creative people who encouraged him to experiment.
"I could work at the architecture office and someone would give me a pencil and I could build houses...for me it's all about creating stuff and it's very fulfilling".
Inspired by the bicycle lanes in Amsterdam, the resident "cycling professor" Marco te Brömmelstroet, and the vision of greener, more connected cities, Sybren designed the Downtown set as a way to help children imagine and create a city that re-thinks transportation and community spaces. Sybren grew up at a Waldorf school where stories were front and center as a way to learn and to share the inner life with the outside world. With waytoplay, he dreams and seeks to inspire a world of play where instead of adults projecting their agenda on children, kids get to tell the grown-ups their own stories and without even realizing it, are actually speaking wisdom into grown-up culture about what it means to live fully.
"I hope that parents will play with their children on the floor with this set. Parents learn more about how children want their neighborhood to look like. They are not "formatted" yet like adults, as the "cycling professor" explains in his book "Movement: how to take back our streets and transform our lives".We tell our children to look out and to stop and cars are always driving by and it should be the opposite. Children should have the right of way when they go to school and wait in line."
For Sybren, extending this concept to play allows for children to communicate in the way they know best.
"For me as a designer that's a huge plus that it is the child that takes it away to the whole next level with what can be done with it. That is the benefit of open-ended play...leaving enough open for the child to do what they want with and create their own fantasies. For instance four years ago it was children who figured out that if you get the roads wet you can stick them to the side of the bath and they noticed that."
Waytoplay is a company that makes children the inventors, the architects, the artists, and the story-tellers in their play. Sybren talks about the difference between how adults build and how children build.
"We make everything so effecient. A to B as fast as possible. There is no real adventure anymore for adults."
With the design of the new Downtown, Sybren aims to bring community, connection, and even fun to a very grown-up world. For instance, there is a hopscotch on the new Downtown, as is also seen in the viral trend of setting up a camera to see if adults will jump on a hopsotch as they walk down a city street. As humorous as it is to watch the different reactions and levels of engagement, there is something very telling in that seemingly silly experiment. It tells us that adults want to play too but are not allowed because once you are "grown-up" are only supposed to do serious adult things. With children we expect them to be creative and playful but then suddenly when you grow up everything that was once curvy and playful is now straight, serious, and void of any sort of playfulness or fun. As adults, "fun" very often gets a bad reputation, and is labeled as something nice but not necessary.
However, studies have shown that "the fun theory" is actually a powerful force to help change happen by harnessing the power of community, connection, and play. In Stockholm, Sweden, a "fun theory" experiment was done in the subway to see if by turning the stairs into working piano keys, they could get more people to take the stairs instead of the escalator. Another experiment was to decrease the amount of litter in a park by making the trash can produce humorous sound effects every time trash was thrown in. The result was that people went looking for trash on the ground just to come back and throw it in the trash can to hear the sounds again and again.
With Downtown, Sybren aims to bring socially conscious efforts like more walkways, bike lanes, and community areas to the city. As we see in the videos above, many efforts like these seem like fun, but the data shows that they are also innovative and effective avenues to real and lasting change. When you create invitations for people to show their humanity at its best, you are facilitating connection and beauty in the world. Strangers laughing together, streets that encourage cars to make way for families, friends, bikes, and pets, and communal spaces to foster connecting between travelers. So when someone creates stairs the make music, whimsy, and laughter or Sybren designed the Downtown set to have a hopscotch, what they are really creating is beauty. They are inviting adults and kids alike, side-by-side to create beauty and jump down a hopscotch to a more connected, more thoughtful world.
Sybren continues to look for new and innovative ways to encourage children to imagine their world as it could be, and leads by example in creating something beautiful and using his platform to tell a story of a brighter future. He says of his growing company that as you get bigger, it gets harder, and ultimately that some things you have to do "upfront with your head...but at the same time some things you should do with all your heart."