ZOOBS: A Challenge for the Hand and Mind

By Herbert Kohl

Mathematicians sketch their ideas. Biologists often make physical models of them. Physicists are dependent upon complex multidimensional computer modeling. Painters sketch before attacking a canvas and musicians fiddle around with their instruments while composing. Creative people do not just sit down, but involve their hands and bodies as well as their minds.

There are toys for the mind that give the children the experience and fun of such intellectual modeling of ideas. As a child I remember the Lincoln Logs my parents gave me. As a parent I found delight in watching my children build worlds out of Legos. Now I’ve discovered another classic toy, one that is no more than a few months old. Called ZOOBs, it twists and moves and spirals and opens up the possibility of making everything from scorpions and spiders to DNA chains. Like all good toys it is as much a delight for adults as it is for children. You can probably find sets of ZOOBs in museum shops or high scale toy stores, but I have not yet seen ZOOB in the classroom.

ZOOBs consist of five basic units in red, blue, silver, yellow, and green. The central innovation which makes ZOOBs more flexible and dynamic than Legos or Lincoln Logs is that they are held together by a ball and socket. The top of one piece fits into another piece like the socket of your hip joint, and so can be twisted and shaped into spirals and rings as well as rigid structures without falling apart. As a result the constructions have the feel of objects in motion or in creative tension.

I have been playing with ZOOBs for a while and have watched children play with them. They provide an opportunity for releasing the imagination but also can be used for creative physical/intellectual challenges. The manual that comes with them provides models and ideas for building. Some are easy and some very difficult — at least for me. Kids take to this teasing of the visual imagination much more easily than I do. This is perhaps the first toy I have ever seen that provides “off-screen” physical and imaginative challenges to children who have grown up with computer games.

For more information about ZOOBs, you can write to Primordial LLC, 450 Geary St., Suite 400, San Francisco, CA 94102, email: azoob@aol.com, or the website: http//www.zoob.com) or visit your local toy store.