Designing with Children

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We have only recently returned from our second research visit at Wilderness Wood, East Sussex (see http://www.wildernesswood.org/about/), which left us with tons of exciting data to look at! There, we spent a day observing the Wilderness Wood team designing and building a new play kitchen for toddlers. The design team comprised eleven children aged 5-12, their parents, two building facilitators and Dan, the architect. A parallel event run alongside the design and build activity, which involved Lucy and younger children aged 2-5 decorating the kitchen and preparing recipes.

The morning of 30th May found the Wilderness Wood team identifying a structure for the play kitchen over two chalk boards with lots of drawing, improvising and ideas-sharing taking place. For the half hour that was designated to the design stage we were able to capture much excitement and brainstorming through video recordings, photographs and field notes. (It was only two of us this time; we just wished we had more hands and eyes). Constraints were discussed, solutions were found – with the children offering some great input into all these – and before we realised it was already time to get on with the building part.

For the rest of the day, we witnessed industrious building work across the site. The children were instructed how to use the tools and were then involved in every aspect of the work: strip wood off the bark, cut, measure and saw poles or, where there was no space for everyone, eagerly gather around and watch those involved. There was an atmosphere of inquiry and hands-on creativity in gaining a working knowledge of materials and tools, which the children seemed to enjoy, as adults' clear confidence in the children's abilities, which children appreciated and commented on during our interviews with them. We were able to run interviews after lunch and during the afternoon session, inside the nearby tepee, which lent our discussions a playful air.

This was a serious job to be done. And you can see the outputs with your own eyes. A big thanks to Emily, Dan and all of you who allowed us to experience Wilderness Wood!

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