beta super power maker
is a pretend play toy that helps children and parent kickstart some fun philosophical conversations.
Practise: Final Project Thesis
Timeline: 8 weeks
Project team: Individual project
Roles: Research, concept and physical building
FULL CONCEPT VIDEO ↓
In the future where information will only get more abundant and ubiquitous, research has shown the need for philosophical thinking is getting more crucial than ever especially for the young minds.
Beta Super Power Maker is an imaginary-play toy for children of 4-6 year old. It lets children think freely about the kinds of super power they can make for their play-pretend session.
It's designed to provide a safe place, giving them confidence and courage in thinking, opening up some philosophical questions during the play.
The toy has 2-sides to encourage paired playing and remind children that there's the other perspective to be mindful of.
It comes with slider controls to adjust the strength of each super power they created. Should they all be maxed out? Why should one be stronger than the other?
After everything is set, use the hammer to tranfuse power onto your favourite piece of accessories!
the super problems
Super problem cards are there to help grown-ups to kickstart the play. Prompts are based on real wicked problems such as dying planets, robots, happiness and evil leaders. Perfect for children who likes to problem solve.
the power keys
A variety of stickers can be used to make their power keys. Children can create their own meaning for the stickers.
Does the dwarf create powers that make everyone happy, or does it make everyone short?
the moral compass
The moral compass is for children to learn about defining their own good and bad values. What does good and bad mean to them?
What are the things that can be both good & bad at the same time?
Does the moral compass align with the super power you made?
↓ The ✓ arrow will always point to the 3-northstar value
remember the parental warning
The small but crucial detail that will make or break the game. A friendly warning for grown-ups to not judge what the children have to say.
It’s super important for the grown up to remember, the intention of this play isn’t to get the most appropriate answer, but to empower children and offering different perspectives to let them think for themselves.
HOW DID I GET THERE?
I have been interested in play design and toy-making, and this seems like a good opportunity to finally do it!
I've visited some toy stores in Costa Rica to search for an design opportunity. Overwhelmed by the types of toys available in the market, I realised the pattern of toys are usually designed based of the representation of our cultural imperatives.
The toys covered most of the life skills such as STEAM, creativity, motor ability, arts and crafts, logic etc. But there's one missing piece that I can't seem to find.
' What about a toy about philosophy? How would that look like? What does that even mean? '
↑ The variety of toys available in this world. But what's the real value of these toys being created exactly?
I was curious about how would a toy for children's philosophy look like, and what's the best age to start learning about philosophy. In the end I've decided to design for pre-school (4-6yo) as I found that it is the age where children start to express and make sense of the world, at the same time also testing the boundaries of breaking the rules. Sounds like an ideal state to be philosophical?
I started asking around about what people think about toys for children philosophy. While I was expecting to get some interesting responses, there's a pattern of similar questions being asked in return, which actually gave me a good headstart of what my research goal should be.
then i did these research methods
Talking to 9 people of different background ranging from pre-school educator, anthropologist, children psychologist, parents, and a philosophy graduate.
Online philosophy activities with children of 6-7 year old
Reading Sophie's world
highly recommend for people who likes some fun read about philosophy btw
I've learned that spamming children with 5-whys is the surest way to turn them off.
After synthesizing all the findings, I managed to gather some insights from the top 3 frequently asked questions about Children Philosophy.
What is philosophy for children? Is it about getting children to think/ask like existing philosophers?
No, it's unlike conventional philosophy where students are passively exposed to existing philosophical concepts.
Philosophy for children is providing a safe space to create a form of desire or opportunity for children to explore and articulate what they have not said or even thought before.
Are pre-schoolers cognitively ready to think philosophically?
Yes, children are born with natural philosophical skills that are shaped by what they see and feel around them.
Unfortunately they are misunderstood that they can't think philosophically as they are still learning the lingual ability to express themselves. Then slowly conditioned to not be philosophical.
Philosophy and children? Is it necessary?
Philosophy in general aims to practice the ability to decentre in imagination and shift between different point of views, which is a necessary requirement of thinking and reasoning well.
It is really important to empower children the ability to think and challenge an idea, without jumping too fast into conclusions especially in our current information-overloaded world.
★ Bonus finding - what's the one thing that all children love?
dinosaurs and super-powers
okay, so it's 2 things
Based on the insights gathered, a design challenge was created to brainstorm some co-creation ideas with a 4-year-old.
How can we use dinosaur as a stimuli to practice philosophy for children?
3 ideas were short listed as they are based on favourite children activities, such as the shadown puppet talk show, whynosaurus's hide-and-seek and a story making train.
All with dinosaurs as the main element.
then I co-created with a 4 ½ year-old
Being my very first time co-creating/real engagement with children, I've learned that the best way to co-create with them is to just go with their flow.
Planning activities could be helpful, but children are so full of ideas so expect things to change gear every 15 minutes. Overwhelming but it is extremely fruitful to learn about what children really likes to do!
hide and seek turned into a character making activity
Key insights from 2 co-creations
Children think more when they are in charge of the narrative.
A self directed open pretend play had more chance of prompting philosophical topic than a guided play.
Children of age 4-6 are egocentric and they thought everyone think & feel like they do.
They are also at the stage of discovering their sense of self hence pretending multiple identity is intriguing for them
Topics such as good, bad, strength are most frequently talked about for children of this age.
They also love to feel they can help and solve problems.
Being a co-player during the play, there were times when I felt the urge to correct what the child is responding
some fun observations
very serious sticker business
hammer seems like an instinctual tool for transfusing power
Based on all the cocreation insights collected, I revised the topic to philosophy for with children when I realised the experience is actually mutual for both grown-up and children.
Since super power was being mentioned most of the time, I bid farewell to the philosophical whynosaurs and tweaked the design challenge to
How can we use a super power themed play to prompt philosophical thinking between grown up and children ?
I had the idea of a super power making machine. Inspired by my young time obsession of playing RPGs, I remembered the time when you set your skill power would affect the way you think about play the game, which seems like a good analogy of how you think of philosophy would affect how you think in this game of life.
I took some random objects in the house and quickly put together a super power making shelf.
Imagine it could be a storage lab where children can extract super powers from their own toys, or mix them together to make a new one.
after taking a few look at the dirty prototype, I realised the form factor seems too silo-ish to encourage a play together experience
Always charmed by idea of the Mary Poppins magic bag ever since young, I made another iteration that looks like a doctor bag with buttons and sliders. I thought it would be fun if it's a portable machine where children can bring it around and play with their friends. Also, the symmetrical form of a doctor's bag seems like a good format to encourage pair playing.
I've tried simplifying the form but it looked less convincing as a super power machine. I decided to go with the full fledge version and made a mid-fi version to test the materials and weight. The handle was omitted in the end as the body weight got a little heavier and wasn't as convenient to be carried like a bag.
Key slots were made at the top row to mimic the gesture of "unlocking" to feel more empowering, and also it can serve as a little motor skills exercise for younger children.
Full version (left) and lite version (right)
Mid-fi version. The handle was omitted due to the weight of the material
Making the compass
The moral compass idea hit me during the building phase. I find this pairing seems like a good entry level to introduce the concept of power and ethics.
I wanted to create a needle that always goes back to the same direction even after fiddling with it, like how the compass is always pointing north.
To keep the toy as low tech as possible, I found magnet to be a good hack to make this without any getting any motors and wires involved.
I thought it's important to let children self define the values of their moral compass, so I made some pocket slots to enable children swap their values around, if they want.
What would be their ultimate north star value, and what is the no-star value to them?
The "values" are presented by abstract illustrations to allow an open interpretation from the child.
They are made into sticker strips because everyone loves stickers!
Latest play test learnings
This is the super power of becoming transparent (ghost) and weak (hammer)
Some children stacked transparent stickers together to create a more customised power they have in mind.
One of the children noticed the super power machine could also be used to create a "weakness" and made a super power of transparent and weak so the evil monster(his mum) wouldn't be able to touch or harm him at that time.
The moral compass activity triggered few perspective change when children are asked to explain the stickers they picked for their moral compass.
The crocodile sticker was placed as a bad value initially. Then the girl took a second look and changed her mind because she noticed the crocodile had white teeth so the crocodile can't be that bad ↘
When we got the prompt to create the most evil super powers, one of the girl started wearing the keys to her wrists and opened up about how she would wear this to fend off the naughty kid in school.
One of the child build a super evil power that is mainly based the notion of illness such as the mummy and zombie that makes people sick.
The other children's most evil super power is made of a robot that makes people evil, ghost that scares people, and an "Ipad" that makes people feel sad.
reflections & next steps
Children loved the fidgety moral compass but could it be a distraction from grasping the idea?
Children were thinking hard and got stuck at some point when probed to further articulate their thinking.
Having extra controllers such as the sliders were helpful to stimulate further articulations from the children.
A tangible wearable output may be needed to complete the feedback loop, and to increase engagement and play continuity.