Toys as Tools for Peaceful Conflict Resolution



Spring 2004  

Conflict is at the root of human nature, and an aspect of all social relationships. Yet conflict can also foster a powerful, transformative journey when we are equipped to resolve it with a positive outcome.

This publication highlights the essential role of design in enabling toys and games to become tools for peaceful conflict resolution at the hands of children. Reflecting unique ingenuity and thought, the nine new products documented herein amuse and entertain — and in so doing, also teach, comfort, and help children to successfully cope with conflict.

We celebrate these compelling projects and the boundless creativity of those who made them: ArtCenter College of Design students in the Spring 2004 Product Design 3 Class, endorsed by our social and humanitarian College-wide initiative, Designmatters at ArtCenter. The personal journey of each student as they addressed this challenging topic was inspired, every step of the way, by the energy and commitment of their instructor, Igor Burt, a leading member of our Product Design faculty. Igor embraced the complexity of this topic as an opportunity to engage his class in a true process of discovery, and instilled his inspiration among all of us. We would also like to acknowledge the wonderful contributions of Heather Emerson, who acted as teaching assistant for the class.




These designs also represent the culmination of an outstanding collaboration between Art Center and two other leading Pasadena based institutions that are helping our children to craft a culture for peace: the Western Justice Center Foundation (WJCF), and Pacific Oaks College and Children’s School. The WJCF’s Conflict Resolution Workshop provided an important point of departure for the Art Center class, and the Foundation’s generous support and its facilitation with on-site research were equally invaluable. We extend special thanks to Najeeba Syeed-Miller, who shared with us her immense knowledge and passion as an acclaimed mediator. The project also benefited greatly from the expertise of the staff and faculty of Pacific Oaks College and Children’s School. We especially thank Corrine McGuigan and Jane E. Rosenberg for their many contributions, and for opening the Children’s School to our class. Here we had a perfect stage to observe young children and teachers working together to solve conflicts every day, through play.

Mariana Amatullo, Program Director, International Initiatives, Designmatters

The purpose of this project is to encourage design that offers people a social service, thus challenging product design’s role in society beyond mere form and function.
We are familiar with how a friend or a parent can help us regain perspective and find peace in times of emotional stress or conflict. Maybe this is due to their being an objective ‘outsider’ to the situation, or due to their past experience with a similar situation.
Sometimes, however, friends or family are not available. Suddenly it seems impossible to make decisions that are good for us to remain calm and fair while we are filled with feelings of fear, anxiety, or anger. This can happen almost anywhere and anytime, when we are dealing with people, problems, or change. This is when a ‘virtual’ friend, a voice of reason, or a private fairy is needed to encourage both us and others to take the first steps of communication towards a peaceful resolution. In this class, which we have called, ‘one peace meal to go please!’, we hope to offer some of the first steps.

Igor Burt, Faculty, Product Design

A mission of Art Center’s Public Programs is to give children skills and talents that help them negotiate the stages of their lives. We emphasize the design process because it involves research, problem-solving, critical thinking and innovation – in effect, life skills. What struck me upon visiting the Children’s Workshop on Conflict Resolution at the Western Justice Center Foundation in Pasadena were the similarities of our missions: An underlying belief that creativity is the essence of problem solving, and that by providing children with powerful educational tools and resources, we are helping them to design more successful outcomes. Pasadena is home to many renowned cultural and educational institutions such as California Institute of Technology, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Fuller Theological Seminary, Art Center College of Design, the Norton Simon Museum, and more. This unique and far-reaching project between Art Center, the Western Justice Center Foundation, and Pacific Oaks College and Children’s School in Pasadena reflects a new spirit of collaboration in the community. It is our sincere hope that the innovative products of this collaboration will help advance the public discourse surrounding fear and violence as obstacles to learning in our nation’s public schools.

David B. Walker, Director, Public Programs

“And they learned to shoot accurately from games they played…” This phrase echoes in my mind whenever I remember the horrors of the Columbine school shooting incident. These words were mentioned in news descriptions of this tragic event. Children truly are recipients and consumers of products that can affect their responses to conflicts, pain, fear, and peer pressure. The collaboration between the Western Justice Center Foundation, Designmatters at Art Center and Pacific Oaks has been a remarkable experience for me. Through my work with the Western Justice Center Foundation, I have been exposed to the dire need for creative responses to conflict. At Western Justice we undertook an effort two years ago to design the first space dedicated to conflict resolution and children: the Children’s Workshop. This lively space housed at the Western Justice headquarters in Pasadena is based on a unique, experiential approach to conflict resolution. It is built upon the notion that children have the power to resolve conflicts within. The role that we should play is to develop innovative ways for them to discover this capability to resolve conflicts. On three different occasions, I had the honor of working with Instructor Igor Burt and Art Center students of the product design class focusing on the creation of child-centered products that would promote conflict resolution and play. What struck me in all of these interactions is that the students brought a sensibility and commitment to the ideals of peaceful resolution of conflict. As the products began to emerge during the feedback sessions, the role of the designer evolved into someone who thinks of form, function, beauty, as well as the effect a toy would have when placed into the small hands of child. What would the child experience? What would they do in their interaction with the toy that would bring a sense of exploration and experimentation with others and their own abilities to successfully reduce violence in this world? As a conflict resolution specialist at Western Justice Center Foundation, I am, of course, convinced that the principles of peaceful resolution work with children. It was powerful to realize that such concepts can translate into the birth of products that can be both instructional and fun for children. Design certainly matters. These days, it is of paramount importance. Cultural production and design must go hand in hand as we seek to improve the condition of our world. The combined philosophy allows for adaptable and dynamic approaches to conflicts without a strictly didactic tone. That is what most intrigued me and is the greatest reward of this project: that conflict resolution can appeal to our sense of spontaneity and joy. The students in this project, lead by their inspiring instructor, Igor Burt, grasped the importance of joy and play for children and harnessed this energy to design products that do more than teach; they transform.

Najeeba Syeed-Miller, Western Justice Center Foundation

Pacific Oaks College and Children’s School, rooted in the philosophies of non-violence and peacemaking, is extraordinarily pleased to join its efforts with those of two other outstanding organizational leaders in Southern California – Art Center College of Design and the Western Justice Center Foundation. Through this collaborative relationship, each of us enhances our own mission. Together, we create a greater ability to stay engaged in the often difficult and complex works of peace and justice. Together, we dare to dream, dare to speak and dare to inspire. Together, we are better peacemakers than any of us could be alone.

Corrine McGuigan, PhD., Provost, Pacific Oaks College and Children’s School

Pacific Oaks Children’s School was founded in 1945 by seven Quaker families. The institution has a rich history of providing peace education and incorporating issues of social justice into their curriculum for young children. Since its inception, the teachers at Pacific Oaks have skillfully facilitated problem solving, taught respect for each other and promoted social responsibility. Their progressive practices have been influenced by the belief that violence is a learned behavior, therefore empathy, tolerance and respect can also be learned. Pacific Oaks has achieved peaceful coexistence within the school in several ways through providing positive role modeling, validating children’s emotions, introducing language as a tool for problem solving and empowering children with opportunities for choice making. The collaborative partnership between Pacific Oaks College and Children’s School, the Western Justice Center, and Art Center College of Design evolved from a mutual commitment to help children develop peaceful conflict resolution skills. This innovative project has brought our organizations together to create positive social change within our community.

Jane E. Rosenberg, Pacific Oaks Children’s School

It is a privilege for us to open this project to the public. Sometimes as designers we forget that, after all, we are also the public, and we too, have public opinions and things to say. This publication displays nine wonderful product design students’ interpretation of conflict by redirecting anger, anxiety or fear towards dialog and communication.

Igor Burt, Faculty, Product Design

Project Outcomes

Bop n’ Throw
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Leah Louise Thomas

Calm: Relax by bouncing the spring-attached ball on the racquet. Think: Focus on getting the ball in the target hole. If played hard, ball releases and separates from paddle. Act: Now separate paddle into two paddles. Play catch with your friend.

Bustin’ Bracelet
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Dien Tran Nguyen

Calm: Release anger by throwing bracelet, causing it to break into pieces. Think: Put it back together by matching words on the pieces with words on bracelet (“say sorry,” “lets play” etc.). Act: Act on statements and take it back to the child you have a conflict with. Then the bracelet could be shared with the other child since it breaks into two pieces.

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Yevgenya Matusovskaya

Calm: The squeeza is worn around the neck and is squeezed when the child is nervous. Think: Little rings fly around in the water game that is located in the center of the toy. Act: Once the child completes the game, he/she is able to open the bottom compartment from which two chalks are released—enabling him/her to share one of the chalks with the child he/she has conflict with.

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Tae Ryong Lee

Calm: When trying to calm down, the child can rotate spintop while in pocket. After a short while, spinning toy will expand, puzzle inside will show, and the child will have to take the toy out of the pocket. Think: The child tries to solve puzzle and match rings with visual of ‘Ouch the Egg’ to make the spintop smaller again. Every turn winds up the toy’s internal spring. Act: Now solved, the toy is collapsed, and can be released on the ground for the final play.

Why Don’t You Play With Yo-Yo?
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Eunhye Kang

Calm: Spin a yo-yo. Think: There is a puzzle in the center of the yo-yo. While doing the puzzle, the child can think about the conflict with his/her friend. Act: The child can play with the balls that come out from inside of the puzzle with a friend who has conflict with him/ her.

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Rodney Trota Fuentebella

Calm: Toy makes lights and sounds in response to touch. Think: Toy invites the child to repeat a pattern of lights and sounds, like “Simon Says.” Act: Toy invites two children to repeat a pattern of lights and sounds using two toys.

Squeeze A Bubble Ball
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Han Young Choi

Calm: The child can squeeze this toy when he/she gets angry. All the buttons are clear and pop out. Now toy becomes the problem. It cannot be put in pocket due to its large size. Think: The child has to push the buttons back in a certain order by reading words inside each button. Act: Now for every squeeze, bubbles come out. Children can blow them at each other, and have fun.

Magic Maraca Racquets
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Eugene Bae

Calm: Shaking this product makes two different musical sounds from the body and a ball inside. Playing this game provides the child with a focus that can help him/her calm down. Think: Clearing windows of the game allows the user to see the ball inside of it. To open the game, the child must solve a puzzle by setting two dials correctly. Act: After opening it, a ball and two racquets come out.