Wizard of Oz Vending Machine

Who’s the Kid Behind the Machine?

In Design, we have something called Wizard of Oz prototype. These are prototypes created to test or iterate on product functionality, and they work mainly because there’s a person “behind the curtain” simulating the behavior of the product being designed. Our vending machine works just like this kind of prototype.

Made from foam boards, plastic sandwich bags, and velcro, this vending machine is operated by my cute, little wizard. We have spent hours (hours!) playing with it. We started playing it when he was four (he’s almost six now). I love that it incorporates role playing with Math concepts (adding and subtracting money, mostly). And since it’s a homemade toy, we are constantly improving it. For example, it was G’s idea to add the compartments for our play money behind the machine.

G loves to be the vending machine and has set up a store with matchbox cars, rocks, and other random little toys he could fit in the machine. He sets insane prices ($100.10 for a Lego piece!), and tracks inventory by constantly checking which items have sold and replacing them with new items. During play, I put my money in the drawer and push it toward his side. He takes the money, determines change (I always make sure I need change), puts my change back in the drawer, and drops the item down a separate chute. I then take the item from my side of the machine by opening a velcro-operated door, and count my change.

I love making our own games and toys. Not only are they cheaper, and can be customized to G’s interests, they also inspire the maker in him. Case in point: we were at Toys R Us one day, and G showed interest in a particular toy. He was studying it quite intently, so I asked if he wanted to buy it, or at least to put it on his wish list. He said, “No, we can make it.”

I admit I count that as a proud Mommy moment.

Palette:     brown-32  red-32