by Caroline , Eric , and EmilyAbstract
Almost everyone has played with stacking ring toys at one time or another. Most households with small children have them, and they are simple yet fun playthings for babies, children, and adults. Many of them have five rings of different colors (in our case blue, green, yellow, orange, and red) and often the largest ring is blue and the smallest red (this is true for our toy).
Caroline and Eric are PhD scientists, Emily is an 11-month-old baby, and the three of us would like to share with you some things we learned by playing with this neat toy.
What is the toy like?
Our toy is a yellow tower with five rings: blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. The rings are different sizes and the tower is tapered so that the only way you can fit all the rings on the tower is to put the biggest one on the bottom and so on up to the smallest one on top. This puts the rings in rainbow order with blue at the bottom, then green, yellow, and orange, and finally red on top. You can see the stacking rings toy in the picture below.
Caroline and Eric play with the toy
Caroline and Eric played with the toy for a while, and always ended up leaving the rings stacked in rainbow order with blue at the bottom and red at the top. We've written this order in the table below.
Emily plays with the toy
Emily took all the rings off, and then put them back on in different orders. She was happy with all the different arrangements she found. We've written some examples in the table. She found that she could put a ring on top of the top ring and it would be pretty stable since the tower pokes its head a little above the top of the red ring. This is the "Level 6" listed below.
Table: Different ring orders
Caroline Emily put the rings in all these ways
& Eric's a b c d e f
Level 6 yellow green red green orange red
Level 5 red orange red green red red yellow
Level 4 orange orange orange orange
Level 3 yellow blue yellow yellow
Level 2 green green green green
Level 1 blue blue blue
What we learned
Caroline and Eric always found the same ring order, but Emily had a lot of fun with all sorts of different arrangements. Maybe Caroline and Eric were too quick put the rings in the order they knew was right. Do we know that their arrangement is "better" than any of Emily's arrangements? Perhaps adults shouldn't jump to conclusions so quickly.
We had a good time playing with the toy and Caroline and Eric learned that their preconceived ideas are not necessarily true.
You can also read the scientific version of this report.