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Urban planning workshop with Telliskivi Creative City, August 2018 (photo: Siim Siil)

How to design the world around us with kids

After almost 2 years of being part of kicking off an amazing VIVISTOP Telliskivi the creative space for kids, I’m ready to move forward and embrace new challenges. But before that, I’ll share some of my thoughts on my experience of designing the world around us with kids. Let’s jump right in 🤓

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VIVISTOP Telliskivi opening, November 2018 (photo: Siim Siil)

Before the workshop

First, think about what workshop you want to make and what is the goal of it. For me, it has been teaching kids creative problem solving, collaboration and design thinking. Through this, my bigger goal was to build their creative confidence. And yes, we grownups need this too, not just kids!

Always be over-prepared than unprepared. Make a schedule and write down how much time each activity takes. If you are running it with someone together, then agree who is facilitating what. If you have no idea how much time things take, test it out. You probably know someone who has kids. If not, go to Vivistop to test. So yes, always have a detailed plan, but be flexible. Modify your plan during the workshop if needed.

Think about how you can use the physical space because kids may get bored or they have different preferences on how they absorb information or work. Use the whole space and make it work for this particular workshop. You can make some activities in standing, some of the flow and some behind the tables. If you make your workshop in a conference setting or in a co-working space (yep, have done that) then take into account the noise level and all the other activities going on around your workshop. Is it really a good place for your workshop?

You can give pre-homework! Yes, they probably hate it, but we call it investigations and that's not boring. 🤓 This is what, we designers, do! So yes, I give pre-assignment because it helps them dig deeper and build empathy. If you didn’t know, you can give kids any kind of tool from designers toolbox for homework — be it testing, interviewing, observing or even just plain reading and googling — they can do it.

Prepare extra methods and tools for your sleeves to pull when needed. It’s okay if something you planned isn’t working, you can try something else. Are you meeting these kids a first time or the third — how would these games, methods, and tools work then? Think about what tools would be best when kids are new to the design processes and what tools they could try when they are already familiar with to level up.

On the admin side — in case of a limited amount of seats use a platform that allows you to inform people that there are limited spaces like Eventbrite. Send out reminder emails as parents are busy and might forget — so sending them a reminder can be a gentle nudge to prepare and come. Or inform you that their kids won’t be attending the workshop anymore. Always ask permission to take pictures and don’t forget to explain how you use them.

During the workshop

Start the workshop by letting the children know what is going to happen. Have a schedule up on the wall. Explain the house rules and common goals. Like, we respect each other, everyone’s ideas are good, don’t think whether it is possible in the real world — we are in a workshop/ideation mode where everything is possible!

Talk about the context! Firstly, kids are smart. Like really. When I first made the workshops I didn’t introduce what we are doing. I didn’t tell them that this is a design thinking or creative problem-solving method. Tell them what they are doing, how they can refer to tools and methods they are using as well as what is the larger goal that they are trying to achieve through the workshop. They are curious and will want to know.

Be aware of your emotions, you might feel anxious when you are running a workshop for the first time. That's okay! Speaking from my own experiences I definitely felt anxious. I can tell you it passes and in the end, you will feel amazing, and inspired! However, it’s important that you make sure you have someone around that can help you, or give you some time for yourself. Don’t let this stop you, I recommend you to go and embrace the process, just make sure you have needed support for yourself and your team. Go on and embrace the unknownness and trust the process 🖤

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Find that boat! November 2019 (Photo: Anette Heleri Lind)

In facilitating the workshop always be very clear with your words, use age proper language — meaning the simpler you talk the better. Make sure kids understand what you want them to do. If needed, explain it again. I suggest you write down what you want to say and say it out loud — sometimes things said in our head seem a lot more clear than said out loud 🙃 Don’t forget visuals! Your visuals support your words.

Kids are very honest — they tell you right away if they get bored. Actually you see this! They just walk away and do something else instead. Don’t rush, give them time, and space but also let them struggle a little. They need to try, learn and experiment on their own! But if needed offer another tool to use. Let’s say at ideation you told them to write as many ideas on a post-it as they have. For some kids, it can be very hard, if you see they are really stuck, use another ideation method that will help them ideate.

How to map the homework, the kid's investigations? One of my favorite tools for this right now is a Boat tool. Here you map everything positive on top of the water — this is what pushes the boat forward. Everything negative comes under the water, like an anchor, and this is what holds the boat back. Involve kids in mapping positive and negatives, also include them to cluster the negatives. It is visually so clear for everybody — I love you AJ & Smart for sharing this tool 💛

Make them talk! To build kids confidence at speaking in front of others all my workshops end with presentations. To ease them into it always ask them to talk also during the workshop — is it in a warm-up game or sharing their top 3 ideas from the ideation or find another good reason. Yes, this might be hard for them at first but when practiced constantly their public speaking courage grows enormously! 🌟

Last but not least. Always, always have fun! If you have fun, kids have fun! Use icebreakers or improv games that make them move, throw in a fun energizer when you see energy going down and why not something calming at the end. Make them feel heard, safe and playful.

Tools for you to try

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Latitude59, May 2018 (photo Tiina Liina Uudam)

People I thank

Thank you Triin Jassov for making the very first ideation with me in summer 2018. Wow, that was intense! I could not have done it without you. I still remember how I froze one moment and did not know what to do or say when legos were flying :))) What a good learning experience!

Lots of love to Marju Kask who got thrown into being a dedicated mentor at our 3-day open-air workshop to one of the kid's teams at Urban planning workshop. I know how hard it is to guide kids through ideation for the very first time. Thank you for being my rock through our first season.

Big kudos you guys who you always (I mean always) join me when I ask! The most amazing mentors from the Latitude59 hackathon and Urban planning workshopCarol Tikerperi, Eva Laanemaa, Joosep Laht, Maarja Mõtus, Maarja-Liis Raamat, Merike Liiva, Renata Johanson and Toomas Savi. And partners in crime Ede Tamkivi, Mirell Merirand and Janno Siimar.

Eva Liisa Kubiny — latest cool edition to the VIVISTOP design team. I had so much fun running 2 days workshop in Prisma and VIVITA Design Sprint with you — I’m always ready to run a workshop with you! Let’s hassle in the future!

And last but not least — dear Mari-Liis Lind, Taizo Son, and Ayumi Ono, thank you for taking me to this amazing journey! You are doing the right thing! This is not a goodbye, id like to think it’s a hello to future projects. See you at VIVISTOP.

ありがとうございます 🙏

That's it

Yay, you made it to the end - thank you! If you got any thoughts or you’d like to share your own experience, please comment below - I’d love to hear all about it. Or if you are interested in doing a workshop or your business would benefit from service design and problem-solving together with kids, let VIVISTOP Telliskivi know at tallinn@vivita.ee.

My name is Halina Mugame and I was VIVISTOP Telliskivis co-starter and user experience designer. When I started I didn’t have so much experience working with kids or making workshops. At Digigirls Estonia I have had run a few workshops for high school girls but that’s not the same as doing something with 7–12-year-olds. Kids, design processes/tools and the path of letting them lead the way, is a whole different story.

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Kids and Youth Creativity Accelerator

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