Engineering Fun

A husband-and-wife team build a bridge to the offline world.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Bryan+and+Amelia+in+CastleAmelia Cosgrove and Bryan Thomas, the husband-and-wife founders of PopUp Play, are typical of so many parents across America today. Recalling their own childhoods where ‘let’s build a fort!’ meant hours of unbridled fun, they blink to behold today’s listless, screen-staring youth sinking ever deeper into couch cushions, barely moving. How do you coax a screen-gone kid back to life? That’s the genius of their solution. Blending learning, fun, engineering and creativity, they’ve managed to do the impossible.

How and why did PopUp Play get started?

Bryan: We are inherently tinkerers. Much of our childhood was spent creating, building, making, and expanding our imaginations through physical play. Think houses made from popsicle sticks, forts made from big boxes, and one invention especially – the Flying Phone Booth Amelia created out of a shipping crate given to her by her grandfather. One day at

Today, we are doing an increasingly better job at giving children exposure to science, technology, engineering, and math, but it is often coming at the expense of creativity that is inherent to real-life engineering, design and architecture.

work, Amelia was sharing her tinkering stories with co-workers. Of course, the Flying Phone Booth made its way into the conversation. She realized that modern technology could enhance the toys and forts she remembered so fondly. She went home and discussed the idea with me. And so began their future in innovative STEM-based tech toys.

What makes PopUp Play so unique?

Amelia: It enables kids to be makers instead of just consumers.

What does your product offer users that other STEM-based products can’t/don’t?

CREDIT PopUp PlayAmelia: Most STEM-based toys you see today do a great job at getting kids to use their analytical mind. STEM based board games, robotics, and even Legos all are great tools to encourage the mini-engineer. But what about those wanting to get in touch with their inner artistic and creative self? PopUp Play does a fantastic job at wholly complimenting both mindsets. Once you design and build your play structure, it’s then time for you to put it together and add your favorite artistic elements! It’s a full circle, comprehensive learning and playing experience.

Why is the education or STEM space important to you and your business?

Bryan: Today, we are doing an increasingly better job at giving children exposure to science, technology, engineering, and math, but it is often coming at the expense of creativity that is inherent to real-life engineering, design and architecture. We want to help solve that problem.

What is the most important thing parents need to know about your product?

Amelia: That this is fully a family affair. From the first step to the last step, this is an opportunity to digitally and physically engage with your kids; helping them learn new intellectual concepts while connecting with them through the same fun you had when you were a kid.

In what ways do you believe the toy industry can help change STEM-based learning?

CREDIT PopUp Play imageBryan: STEM toys and tech toys are bringing light to not just what kids are learning, but how they’re absorbing information. Parents and educators observe that young children first learn science and math by melding it with things they can touch and manipulate. The concept is often referred to as “concrete learning.” At the concrete level, students use hands-on manipulatives to physically arrive at the solution. The challenge facing many parents and teachers (and kids!) today is that they don’t always have the tools available to bring concrete, creative learning to life. So here at PopUp Play, we are working to transform “concrete” learning into creative learning.

What’s ahead – say, in five years?

Amelia: We have developed a product kids and parents love, but we’re really just starting to realize what’s possible for PopUp Play. Today, we’re very focused on our design-to-reality play structures, and have plans to roll out more models and increase our awareness among parents and kids. But within the walls of Pop Up Play, we’re positioned to grow beyond just this product line. Our goal is to help kids of all ages use technology to be creative makers. In the future, we hope to be the leaders in STEM-based play, with dozens of products that foster kids’ passion for science, technology, engineering, and math.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

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