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Perry the Inventor Gives Kids “Lots of Ways to Safely Make Mistakes”
When he was a kid, Perry Kaye — known to all as Perry the Inventor — preferred playing and inventing to sitting in school. “School beats your natural human, creative instincts out of you,” he says. He and his friends would play with firecrackers and mousetraps, hit rocks with sticks, and climb around the ravine in their neighborhood. They explored. They learned.
To give kids that experience of discovery and foster their creative instincts, the Florida-based entrepreneur and his wife, Teri, founded Perry Teri Toys and introduced the ShapeSHARK, a colored marker that allows children to cut paper into shapes simply by drawing them.
Learning Better by Making a Hundred Mistakes
Kaye thinks that all too often children are taught to look for one right answer, rather than exploring different possibilities and using their creativity to come up with new solutions. He remembers helping his son’s high school science club work on a project for a contest: “They were so afraid of making a mistake.”
In fact, though, making mistakes is the best way to learn. As he puts it, “You learn when you make a hundred mistakes” trying to solve a particular problem. He believes that kids’ toys should reflect that.
“I think we need to have toys that help kids think, create, and build,” Kaye says. “Kids really need lots of ways to safely make mistakes.”
A Lifelong Inventor with a Realist Streak
Coming up with new ideas for inventions and testing them out is deeply engrained for Kaye. “I’ve always been inventing,” he says. His idea journals go back decades, and his mother has an audiotape from when he was less than five years old in which he talks about inventions. In 1988, he founded Gizmo Enterprises, and he has done projects through it even when he was working in unrelated fields during the day. Over the years, Kaye has earned more than 50 US and Foreign patents and written many articles for Inventors Digest. Along the way, he became an expert in CAD software and kitted out a machine shop where he could make parts for himself.
In Kaye’s experience, amateur inventors tend to be dreamers, falling in love with an idea and imagining that it can be implemented. Professionals, by contrast, find a real-world need to address and then do the work required to get their ideas adopted. “Too many inventors fall in love with the idea,” he says. “Pro inventors fall in love with the idea that others fall in love with.”
Today Perry Teri Toys has more than 100 concepts in the works, but they’re careful about which ones they bring to market. Kaye learned long ago that you can’t rely on what people say about an invention, because many people reflexively want to be nice. Instead, he watches how people actually interact with it; if they pick it up and immediately start using it or fight over the one prototype, you know you’re onto something.
The Magic of Cutting and Drawing at the Same Time
That’s exactly how it has been with the ShapeSHARK. Children pick it up and start playing with it right away. They draw a dog in 2D, but because the shape is cut out at the same time it is colored, the dog immediately becomes a 3D object in their hands. Next thing you know, they are building a little world around it by drawing flowers and buildings as the dog’s surroundings.
Kaye believes it’s a simple, inexpensive way to get kids to use their imagination. “Paper is a great medium,” he says, “because it’s cheap, easy to clean up, and it lets kids work with a physical material in the real world. . . . And if you make a mistake, who cares? It’s just a piece of paper.”
Fusion + 3D Printing = Rapid Development
When Kaye got the idea for the marker, he set a timer to see how fast he could make a prototype from materials he had on hand. His many years of experience in product development didn’t fail him: he was done in 14 minutes and 28 seconds.
He explains that he builds one of a product to see if he likes it. If he does, then he builds ten so he can begin to see how to manufacture it. Using Fusion 360 along with 3D printing enables Kaye to do rapid prototyping and answer “Will it work?” for each design decision.
Having spent decades working with CAD, Kaye thinks that Fusion is a great marriage of sculpting and traditional parametric modeling — both of which you need if you want to design products that are ready for manufacture but also look and feel cool. “It’s kind of a dream come true for people looking to use CAD,” he says. “Fusion lets us do all that imagination inside the machine. . . . We’ll be testing the prototype before most people would have the final drawing.”
Kaye is wrapping up the Kickstarter campaign for ShapeSHARK, in preparation for a full product launch later this year. After that, he’ll keep developing other concepts for toys that kids will want to pick up and explore as eagerly as he used to climb in the ravine with his buddies — and as passionately as he now pursues inventing.