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Octo-hugs: a fun analysis of what I’ve learned from kids

Bex Ruvalcaba

I have loved working with kids throughout the process of creating a toy for my thesis, Octo-hugs. It’s a toy that is meant to support children with developmental disabilities at times when they are feeling frustrated. In order to create Octo-hugs I went through iterations of sensory tests – utilizing different fabrics and amounts of stuffing, leg tests where I created thick and thin octopus legs to see which would be the most huggable, and, of course, hearing from children. Receiving input from kids themselves was vital to creating Octo-hugs, especially including children with developmental disabilities in the creation process. Despite the overall experience of my thesis being very informational and invaluable, sometimes the words that came out of the mouths of children I was working with were hilarious, or very cute. From an interesting choice of smells, to creating toys with fun names, I give you some of the most fun and laugh-worthy sentences kids have either told me or written down for user testing and interviews – and how this all contributed to what Octo-hugs is today.


1. “My toy smells like blue grapes.”

Now, I don’t know if this kid has ever attempted to buy such grapes at the local supermarket, but I assume he would be saddened to know that “blue grapes” are not available on the market’s shelves. I would hope this kid was talking about concord grapes, which could be a dark blue or dark purple color. Either way, his toy isn’t necessarily a creature that is associated with grapes, or any other fruit for that matter.

According to Valentin, the toy that smells like blue grapes is a huggable whale named “Huggble Wale.”

2. Apples are HUGE

Well, at least Asael’s apple toy is named Huge. This apple seemed to once have been a banana, but was decidedly changed before the coloring process began. Instead we are left with a beautiful red apple, grinning from stem to leaf with wide eyes. Asael made sure to point out that Huge is both “soft and flufe” and is made from “cotin and fer.” Of course, a fruit toy would be created with cotton and fur to make it as soft and fluffy as possible, just as Asael pointed out. Although I might have not paired fur with a toy representing an apple, here we can see the importance of how a plush toy feels to a child who holds it. I’m assuming Asael wanted this apple to be fairly large given the toy’s name – it’s gotta be “HugE.”

3. Three toys are better than one.

I shall now formally introduce “Hoppy, Poppy, and Loppy,” a trio of pink and purple rabbits.

These three all have the same structure, but their color schemes are slightly different. Hoppy on the left is light purple with a green heart and yellow flower. Poppy in the middle is hot pink with a light purple heart and a green flower. Loppy on the right is light pink with a dark purple heart and a white flower. What I want to point out here is how Melanie not only drew a toy she wants to hug, but in doing so she created her own line of rabbit plush toys. The colors and name of each toy add to the character of each one. Melanie was one of a few children who decided to draw more than one toy for this exercise.

4. Sometimes, it’s what’s on the inside that matters most

Iliani created “Snoopy Puppy Unicorn Dog,” which is a toy that is exactly what it is named. Snoopy Puppy Unicorn Dog is a cute puppy with a lovely yellow unicorn horn. However, the most important aspect of the toy to Iliani is that Snoopy Puppy Unicorn dog is to be made of “rainbow stufing,” that way it can be the most huggable toy. In this sense, it doesn’t just matter what the toy looks like, but also what makes up the toy. In this case, Snoopy Puppy Unicorn Dog is made of rainbow stuffing because do you know what children love to see with a unicorn? That’s right, a rainbow.

 5. Not following directions can sometimes be a positive thing!

Mayleen didn’t give her octopus toy much of a name, but she did give this toy quite the design. Mayleen got out the craft supplies to create this bubbly octopus, even though my directions stated to “color” in the octopus. I’m not complaining though, not at all. Sometimes it is better to not follow directions, as we can see here! Mayleen wanted her huggable octopus toy to be textured and colorful – the way she went about “color”ing in her octopus perfectly conveyed her ideas.

6. Some kids want to be seen

I would like to end this piece on a positive note by showing you Valentin’s huggable octopus toy. This is Braces the Octopus.

As fun as kids can be, they can also subtly show us how they feel through their work. Here we have a toy with glasses, braces, and a cast. Do you want to know who else has glasses, braces, and a cast? Valentin. He wanted to see himself through his toy – even his personality, as can be seen in Braces’ speech bubble saying “Hi fireds [friends] how are you.” It was touching for Valentin’s teacher to see this drawing, because Valentin wanted a toy like him, even if it was portrayed through an octopus named Braces.

As my thesis comes to an end, I’m reminded of how wonderful children are. They are funny, creative, at times troublemakers, and always learning. Sometimes they want to see themselves in the toys they play with, while other times they want toys to be their storytelling medium. Ultimately, every child is different, and thus every child has different wants and needs for their toys. There isn’t one toy that will help every child with a developmental disability, but there can be a toy that is there for them if they need it, and that’s why I created Octo-hugs

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Bex is a 4th year student with one more year to go at The New School where she studies DT at Parsons and Screen Studies at Lang. She is interested in exploring simple interactions in meaningful ways. You can view more of her work at