We're in the midst of a Learning Revolution – a revolution that champions the importance of play in teaching 21st Century skills!

Twenty One Toys designs and manufactures toys that teach Empathy, Failure, Creative Communication, Collaboration and other core skills necessary for 21st Century learners, of any age.


Great! We’ve got answers! Take a look at our FAQ below.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Twenty One Toys (the longer answer)?

    Twenty One Toys is a young social enterprise that works out of the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto, Ontario. We design and produce toys and workshops that teach key 21st century skills, such as innovation, creativity, collaboration, and complex problem solving by breaking them down into core skills such as Empathy, Failure and Communication. Our first toy, the Empathy Toy, is already in hundreds of homes, schools, and offices in 31 countries thanks to forward thinking educators, a handful of awards and our Kickstarter Campaign that let us manufacture our first batch of Empathy Toys!

  • Why the name Twenty One Toys?

    Twenty One Toys stands for 21st century skills.

    We also take inspiration from Friedrich Froebel, who in the 19th Century designed 20 toys that led to his creation of Kindergarten. We like to think we pick up where he left off, at the 21st toy.

    Watch our animated explanation below!

  • Why did you start with a toy for Empathy?

    Empathy is not only the basis of communication and creative collaboration, it is also the backbone of design and business innovation. Thought leaders in entrepreneurship and education agree that empathy is more than just a fuzzy, feel-good emotion. It’s key to 21st Century learning and understanding.

    Curious to learn more about empathy? Here are some of our favorite articles:

  • What is the Empathy Toy?

    The Empathy Toy is an award-winning blindfolded puzzle game originally designed with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind to bridge the communication gap between visually impaired students and their sighted classmates. It has since been turned into a learning tool designed for students of almost any ability and age from K-12, as well as a facilitation tool for workplaces of every shape and size.

    (watch founder Ilana Ben-Ari’s TEDx talk explaining the Empathy Toy’s origins)

    TIME magazine feature, Sept 2014: "(The Empathy Toy) one of 6 new technologies shaping classrooms of the future."

  • How does the Empathy Toy work?

    The Empathy Toy is made up of abstract wooden puzzle pieces with different textures, colours and shapes which connect into hundreds of different patterns. The game starts when one or more players are given a pre-made pattern that they then explain to one or more players (with loose, identical pieces) so that they can re-create that exact pattern. The challenge is that they are all blindfolded and can use only their words to describe these abstract shapes.

    What follows is an intense 5-25 minute gameplay where players must create a common language and, very quickly, gain huge insights into how they deal with new challenges, frustration, creative communication and empathy. The “third player” is everyone else in the room. They act as observers, and (unlike the other players) they can see but can not speak.

    (Watch hilarious videos of children and adults playing the Empathy Toy)

  • Who is using the toys? What are their ages and ability levels?

    The Empathy Toy is designed for ages 6 - 99.

    That being said, kids as young as 2 have played with the puzzle pieces, but at that point they are more like fancy wooden lego-like blocks (as opposed to rich exercises in communication and empathy). The puzzle pieces also require a certain level of fine and gross motor skills but otherwise, difficulty levels can be adjusted by removing or adding extra pieces. We have a number of interesting case studies on how the toys were adapted for children with various levels of ability. Please get in touch if you have specific questions: hello@twentyonetoys.com

  • Where is the Empathy Toy being used?

    The most remarkable thing we discovered after our first year is that the toys were being used in elementary schools, junior high, high schools, universities, boardrooms, work retreats, summer camps and even speed dating events! At the heart of the toys is the ability to practice, play and learn about empathy. When we visited our first 100 schools one thing we discovered was that the toys would go missing, because teachers were taking them home to play with their family!

    To give you an idea of the Empathy Toy’s flexibility, here are a few places that you can find the toys:

    • The Human Rights Museum
    • Snakes and Lattes BoardGame cafe & Snakes and Laggers
    • The Toronto Catholic District School Board
    • Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board
    • Sierra Leone - MIT media lab’s Global Minimum “Innovation Labs”
    • BitMaker Labs - UX design class
    • Toronto Rehab
    • SickKids Hospital
    • Seneca College
  • What is the difference between the At-Home, Education and Organization Sets

    The Education and Organization sets are toy sets that come with extensive guidebooks with outlines for workshops and lessons specific to those environments. The At-Home set is the “lite” version of these sets and doesn’t come with a guidebook.