Try these fun ways to maximize prototyping sessions with kids
It is fulfilling as a parent to witness the process of kids inventing things, watching them use their tools and resources to build prototypes of their ideas.
BY JEREMY LOSAW
Kelly Reinhart was 6 when she invented the T-Pak, a thigh pack for kids to carry video games. Frank Epperson invented the Popsicle when he was 11.
Some kids are born inventors and problem solvers. Unencumbered by the trappings of adult life and ignorant of the laws of physics or the limitations of manufacturing processes or material properties, their minds are free to dream up the craziest, loveliest inventions.
It is fulfilling as a parent to witness the process of kids inventing things, watching them use their tools and resources to build prototypes of their ideas—which are often very creative and sometimes well made.
I try to encourage and foster the free thinking required to invent. With a 10- and 6-year-old at home, we have had some fun prototyping sessions over the years.
From working with my two kids, I have used a few techniques that I have seen get the most from them. So I am sharing some of these techniques that can be used with children to promote innovation and good prototyping habits.
Perhaps even the adults in the room can learn something.
10 ideas a day
We have heard about great products coming from an idea that someone had in the shower, but there is no need to wait for serendipity. Ideation can be purposeful.
One technique that is great for idea generation for kids and adults is to sit down every day and write down 10 ideas. I learned of this “idea idea” from author and podcaster James Altucher.
This has been a great way for my kids and me to train what Altucher calls the “idea muscle.” Just like working out, it is training for the brain to get better at making connections through repetitive exercise.
I keep it light with my kids. Any idea is above board; it doesn’t have to be a product. It can be places to go, toys they want, plans for a future play date, or crazy “out there”—impossible stuff like adding a second moon to Earth’s orbit.
You can even do this with pre-writers by having them sketch their ideas instead of writing them down. We do it together, then share our ideas to add an element of shared experience.
Sketching, an important link between concept and execution, is a great way to get the ideas onto the page.
Kids generally love art and creating things, so it is not hard to engage them to do sketch activities. Some paper and their favorite drawing tools, and you are off and running.
One sketch exercise I like is to pick a found item and have them draw it as best they can. This helps them visualize a real item in 3D space and consider the details of what they are seeing. When putting the items at different heights or far away, you can show them how perspective works and how details look different from different distances.
Another sketch activity I like is a speed drawing challenge. We take a piece of paper and fold it in half twice to make four panels. Then we pick a sketch topic like an animal and set a timer for 60 seconds; the goal is to draw it the best you can in the first quadrant.
For each subsequent quadrant we draw the same thing, but with less time. We go down to 30 seconds, 15 and finally 10. It is a quick and fun activity that gets kids to focus on the main features of an object that distinguish it. It is interesting that you can sketch something fairly representative in a very short time.
Give them tools
Learning a new tool breeds creativity and invention. Adding a tool, whether it be a screwdriver, 3D printer, soldering iron or even software, moves the outer boundaries of what is possible.
There is a saying that if all you have is a hammer, the whole world is a nail. So, by extension, if you have any of the many prototyping tools, the world is an invention waiting to happen.
Adding familiarity with a new tool not only gives kids a specific skill, it gives them more ways to solve problems and inspiration to build and invent new things.
Take stuff apart
What better way to use the new tools kids just learned how to use than to use them to help take something apart?
When you take apart and dissect a physical product, the learning is endless. You see the inner workings, what fasteners are used, the layout of the electronics, the gear trains and all the other accoutrements it takes to make something work. Each product that is offered for sale is often the result of hundreds or thousands of hours of R&D, engineering and manufacturing know-how. If you look closely, those secrets will be revealed.
Obviously, there is a risk to taking apart things that work; they may break or not go back together again. So take every opportunity when you have a broken device to take it apart guilt-free.
If you don’t have any broken products, head down to a thrift store and find an old toy or gizmo on the cheap to take apart. You get a bonus point if you can put it back together and get it working again, and 2 bonus points if you harvest the parts to use in your own prototype.