Playful learning through designing toys

Developing a design education toolkit for a non-profit organisation in rural Kenya

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Sustainable Rural Initiatives (SRI) is a non-profit organisation in Okana, a rural community in West Kenya. SRI provides the community members of Okana with opportunities to develop practical skills such as carpentry and tailoring. SRI also works with international partners with specific expertise to give local community members opportunities to develop skills they would otherwise not have had. In all these efforts, there is a strong focus on reflecting the culture, surroundings, and values of the community. Play is an important aspect of how children develop and make sense of their surroundings. Toys are tools through which play is facilitated, but making toys itself is a common form of play too. The literature on play suggests that by providing kids with joyful, engaging, iterative and socially interactive play experiences, adults can guide children’s play to help children develop skills directly involved with that play experience, but also more general learning-to-learn skills. My project had two goals; the first was to give children the opportunity to develop design skills in a fun and playful way. Design is an exciting medium for kids to develop several valuable design skills, that are broadly applicable. The second was to give SRI the tools and practical knowledge to provide children with design activities through which they can develop those skills, both now and in the future. To reach these goals I designed a toolkit, consisting of a manual and several videos, that allows SRI to organise playful design workshops for kids to help the children develop these design skills. In the workshops, the children design toys from materials such as clay and wood, that are available around SRI’s community centre. In the workshops the design process is structured in three phases. In the first phase, a topic is introduced through a video, that then poses several questions to help the kids discuss that topic. These discussions help them to make their goal concrete, as they practise working together. In the second phase they build and test their idea. The kids first gather materials, and then use those materials to prototype their toy. They practise making their ideas tangible and learn from making mistakes. Finally they present their designs to each other, allowing the others to ask questions and give feedback. In doing so, they practise their communication skills and their capacity to reflect. From the third workshop onward, the facilitator has to introduce the topic and questions to the children himself, replacing the video. The facilitator can find suggestions for topics and stories in the manual to help him come up with other challenges for the kids. This toolkit gives children in Okana a fun pastime through which they are introduced to the design process, and can develop valuable design skills. This toolkit has given SRI the knowledge and tools to host those workshops. It has also given SRI a model they can use to effectively transfer knowledge from external partners to the local community.