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Our first Toy Design expedition ended nearly two weeks ago. These were an action-packed 16 hours that included four kids mingling with each other, understanding what makes different kinds of toys alive and fun, observing the design process behind the creation of a toy, staring open-mouthed at the variety of mighty machines that facilitate the production of a finished product, and ideation and prototyping of a toy of their choice.

By the end of the expedition, the kids had plans drawn up for two submarines (one of which was actually an amphi-marine!), an innovative bubble blower that took the form of a beautiful fish, and a foosball-like board game with a shark and a smaller fish playing cat and mouse! Although we couldn’t finish prototyping these completely, we came away with a lot of lessons and hope that the kids got as much out of it as we did.

Jotting down a few important takeaways from this expedition for anyone else who wants to do something along similar lines:

  1. Kids can’t sit still for long periods: This expedition turned out be a jolting reminder of the tremendous energy that young kids have. I guess we are still recovering from it and hence the delay in writing this post! If you want them to learn willingly, make sure to include a lot of physical activities – something that will make them actively use their arms and legs every once in a while.
  2. Kids have small hands: This makes it a bit difficult for them to use common tools. They also aren’t very careful around tools! This doesn’t mean that we don’t let them use any – that would beat the purpose of a hands-on workshop. But they do need to be given enough time and training for them to effectively use them. Prototyping a toy made from materials like cardboard, metal and soft wood – getting familiar with the materials, their properties, which tools to use, and how to work them – is a process which is best done slowly.
  3. Basics first: We strongly believe in giving every participant the freedom to pursue their own idea, but it is better to allow this freedom once they have learnt the basics as a group. Collaboration and peer learning would also kick in the strongest when the whole group works on a common goal first.

One last takeaway that applies to not just this but all our expeditions: slow and steady wins the race. This old adage might sound cliché but it certainly is true for our pedagogy. We are not in this to teach kids how to code, or how to sketch, or how to build a robot – these are just a bunch of transient skills that are relevant today and may be outdated tomorrow. What we are here to do is instil in them a self-learning and problem-solving attitude so that existing skills could be used as stepping stones to learning forever new ones. The goal is that they should understand the fundamentals so well that they can choose a combination of skills from their repertoire to create something new, and hopefully solve a problem in the process.

A long term engagement with kids as well as parents is key to this approach and we hope that with time, we will have enough believers and adopters to make this a success.

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