Kid Designers


Educating about the processes that enable great design is an important part of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum’s agenda. Design Camp offers four week-long immersions in design for kids ages six to ten. To kickoff each week, guest designers share problem-solving strategies and engage campers in fun, real-life design challenges. As the week progresses these young people collaboratively participate in a design cycle towards the creation of a prototype that meets a design brief.

One of my aims when applying for the Cooper Hewitt Fellowship was increase my understanding of how to effectively use design thinking to foster critical and creative thinking skills in primary age children. This age group are so much more hands on and have varying degrees of literacy.

Some things I picked up from design camp included;

  • Key terminology was introduced early on and associated with visual cuesIMG_2944
  • Each time a design term was used, campers were reminded of the meaning of the word and its significance to the design processIMG_2992
  • Each camper kept a design journal and were given design process sticker to use when relevant – reflection was an important part of each dayIMG_0758
  • Learning was mainly achieved through doing, observing, trying, movement, story telling or group discussion
  • Inquiry was central to learning opportunities whether in the museum, at the park or when creating something
  • Sharing out was a regular part of every activity
  • Failure was celebrated and used as an opportunity for problem solving and collaboration
  • There were opportunities for collaboration and teachers were proactive in helping students to work together both through instruction and by example
  • I like… I think… I wonder… was used to help peer to peer feedback

Beyond my own involvement and observation of these camps, two of my own kids were able to participate.

“Places and Spaces” introduced my son to landscape architecture through the challenge of designing a playground in Central Park. A field trip to the Museum of the City of New York helped him understand urban planning and the importance of public spaces.

Kids began to think about user centred design when they created a prototype of an animal enclosure with the needs of the users in mind.

Local playgrounds were tested out and a visit to theĀ Central Park Conservancy assisted campers to analyse various aspects of these public spaces. Everyone was allocated a playground feature and a clicker to count the number of times the public interacted with each feature. Data was collated and findings discussed.

IMG_2561Each camper brainstormed ideas and then sketched a design towards creating a prototype. Groups wrote proposals that expressed how each playground would best meet the needs of the local community. These were shared at the family celebration on the final day.

My daughters “Fashion” camp introduced her to the world of fashion and a design brief that required her group to create a series of fashion components inspired by the Jazz era and skyscrapers.

A guest designer, Jessica Marquez assisted each group to sew a simple shift dress that would act as the canvas for the star garment at the end of week fashion show.

Inspiration was draw from visits to the Jazz Age exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt and the Design Library curated a variety of resources for campers to use. A visit to the Guggenheim further enhanced campers awareness of the colour palettes, patterns and popular imagery of this era.IMG_7145

By the end of the week a variety of head pieces, purses, jewellery and outfits had been created, ready to display on the catwalk at the parent celebration.

Needless to say, my kids LOVED design camp and have some fond memories from this experience.


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