I (Eva) had the honour to join the VIVITA Estonia team exactly two years ago, on the 20th of June 2019. These years have been filled with dizzy-making speed but also heartwarming laughter. Together we conquered the Moon and got back to the Earth, just to plan the next adventure. But what happens behind the curtains? What kind of hard work goes into these conquers?

Always going playfully forward and forward. Photo: VIVITA Estonia

Supporting children's independence and collecting special skills

In response to the traditional school system, VIVITA community created its own creative environment for 8–14 years old children equipped with professional machines, tools, and materials. After a long school day children would be welcomed by industry experts to get started with any crazy “let's build a flying cat” project ideas. It all sounds like a piece of cake but what is the support system behind this everyday work….

Two years ago, during the time of my arrival, VIVISTOP Telliskivi just finished their first season in the studio. It was followed by a thorough self-reflection to analyse what are the users (children's) needs and dreams. To our surprise, we realised that some machines got forgotten and learning did not occur as naturally as we hoped. To make sure that each child can use the drill and the soldering kit, we started carefully mapping out the user journey and brainstormed how to improve the membership experience…

Self-created challenges: the discovery phase

And so we arrived through trial and error (after version A, B, C, and D) at our challenge cards concept. It helps especially new members to get acquainted with the studio space. After the open door day event, children's expedition starts — among 12 challenges children choose their favorites. If they have successfully “passed” 8 creative exercise (and the members' contract is signed) they automatically become a full VIVITA member.

VIVISTOP Telliskivi Challenge Cards. Photo: VIVITA Estonia

The main goal behind the challenge cards is to encourage children to recognise some basic tools in the space but also to be able to come up with project ideas while using them. For example with the sewing machine, children have to choose one everyday textile object and try to recreate it (of course with the help of the mentor). In this way, children experience creating a mini-project by choosing first the tool or machine and then coming up with an idea connected to it.

Free Flow projects. Photo: VIVITA Estonia

After this first encounter with the studio and its possibilities, children have the freedom to create during Free Flow as many and as big projects as they please. The tools they learned to use are constantly in use, especially the 3D printers and the laser cutter. Of course, the membership journey does not stop here, members can always collect special skills and come up with new project ideas.

For this purpose, the VIVITA Singapore team has created a special platform called VIVIBOOM. This digital environment helps children collect special badges (skills) and share their project outcomes with other members. This successfully launched platform will be also soon available to test out in VIVISTOP Telliskivi.

The above-mentioned examples are one of the strongest and most thought-through experiments of the never ending journey to improve the membership experience. The goal always remains the same — to support children’s creative confidence through a self-directed learning process. Opportunities are endless — that is why the international VIVITA team does hard work to figure out what combinations work best for which child.

From idea to a working prototype: the deepening phase

After VIVITA members self-directed learning curve got carefully crafted, VIVISTOP Telliskivi and the other VIVITA studios around the world took on the next challenge. How to go deeper into the project idea so that the child is still directing the process? As always, we started with a brainstorm and a testing period to figure out the best formats.

First, we tested out a 3 weeks long prototyping workshop called Idea Machine and we realised again how the 1:1 mentoring style helps children to come up with more thought-through ideas and prototypes. With the same spirit, we launched the VIVITA Vista accelerator program. During 10 weeks 11 children had a special opportunity to build a working prototype of their idea. The whole experience culminated during Latitude59 conference, where children pitched their idea and showed their prototype to potential investors. A bracelet that reduces anxiety, 3D virtual environment, calculation machine that gives out candy — these are only some of the examples of the world-changing ideas!

VIVITA Vista lemonade stand and building prototypes. Photo: VIVITA Estonia

These examples have been especially fruitful but also filled with many lessons. Attracting a 10-year-old child's interest during a longer period (especially next to school and hobby education) remains our biggest challenge. Nevertheless, all the children showed enormous gratitude just for the experience alone!

Play as a natural part of learning

In addition to the VIVITA membership journey improvements, I had the honour to be part of the creation of playful tools and methods. For example, industrial waste materials such as paper, foam, and SUVA rings from socks turned out to be great additions to arouse interest in children. These were especially useful during the Design a Game summer camp and its Free Play Corner where children could wildly express themselves.

Free Play Corner. Photo: VIVITA Estonia

But this is far from the only example! The already mentioned summer camp was following the concept of a game — children received envelopes with letters to let them know what is their next challenge. Even such a seemingly trivial detail created a lot of excitement — “what will happen next”. On top of that, the whole building process started with opening a surprise package. And other interesting objects were constantly being exposed to the children just to spice things up. In this way the whole making process was much more fun — the idea and the chosen materials were constantly improved.

Opening the surprise package. Photo: VIVITA Estonia

We also completely redesigned the activities in the Design Sprint workshop and created for every exercise a complimentary worksheet with physical objects. To reduce the number of post-it notes used, we played with LEGO bricks and a self-designed wooden game just to make self-expression more tangible. These small add-ons made the workshop atmosphere more playful and lighter.

Playful tools for self-expression. Photo: VIVITA Estonia

My favourite project, however, turned out to be the Creative Chaos outdoor edition workshop. With this project, we realised once again how playful children in the right setting can be. We gave a group of children a challenge to figure out how to play with everyday objects coloured in red. Together new games were born that were immediately tested out. The playful spirit lasted much longer than first anticipated…

Inventing games. Photo: VIVITA Estonia

These few examples illustrates best how VIVITA creates playful learning processes for children. Carefully thought-through “surprises” during workshops pay off enormously.

Self-directed group of children

As the last project, I would like to highlight the newly tested concept called VIVITA Social Club. The goal of the “club” is to strengthen the community between members and give them a platform for self-expression as a whole group. The workshop is self-directed by the children, the mentors only support the group dynamics and help formulate the practical next steps.

Exit Room props. Photo: VIVITA Estonia

As their first event, an Exit Room was created! The brainstorming started during Zoom meetings but the process culminated in the studio building physical prototypes. Most surprisingly, the construction inspired all the other kids to help out as well. One big joint project became the connector of the children. After all the attractions were built, the hosting of the event started. In groups of 3 children could try to decode the space! And eventually, they all succeeded.

Successful escapers. Photo: VIVITA Estonia

The Social Club was created to stay — luckily all the members have tons of new workshop ideas that all need to be realised!

Summary of my journey

All the lessons learned and experiences collected during these two years I will proudly take with me wherever I go! My self-development has been enormous and everything that I have experienced is hard to formalise. However, if I would have to summarise my lessons in few keywords, I would choose the followings:

  1. Less is more! In working with kids it is necessary to create realistic but open tasks. Think through the challenge and show how to find solutions. The result (and the way to get there) should always be open.
  2. Play, play, and once more play! The more playful the atmosphere, the easier children come up with ideas. The more comfortable the mentor feels, the better for everyone.
  3. Show, don't tell! If you want children really to understand what you are saying, you have to give many examples and examples they could relate to.

Thank you to the whole international VIVITA family for this crazy and impossible to forget journey! I am sure we will collaborate again very soon :)

Text: Eva Liisa Kubinyi

Eva Liisa Kubinyi is a designer focusing on children’s roles within society, alternative educational systems, and the importance of free play. Her works include spatial experiences, playful workshops, and patterns. She holds a Master’s in Child Culture Design from HDK-Valand (SE).

Kids and Youth Creativity Accelerator