Children’s Activities

Career Day: Teaching Kids About Design

Teaching kids about designing for technology: resources and tips

I recently spoke at my children’s school for Career Day. As a User Experience Designer in the web and mobile technology industry, I figured I had some skills that would resonate with young children’s love of devices. That was an understatement, and I wish I had been given more time to hang out and listen to their ideas about design. I have a feeling it wouldn’t take long before I would have learned just as much from them as they had from me.

For anyone considering a similar school presentation, or if you just want to get children interested in the field of design and technology, here are the materials and activities I used in my presentation. These were presented to 1st and 2nd graders, in 30-40 minute sessions, with approximately 18 children in each session. But the approach could be adapted to older audiences and longer sessions.

Posters

I created two posters: the first poster explains the job of a User Experience Designer and the second poster explains some of the elements of design that are typically incorporated into any interface.

Download free posters: teaching user experience and interface design to children

Classroom Activity

Most of my presentation was an interactive activity. I walked the children through the process of generating requirements, ‘wireframing’ a design, and then creating a ‘prototype’ for testing purposes. I gave them the assignment of designing a mobile app that would allow children to choose a vacation destination and let their parents know where they wanted to go.

Elements of Design

I started by talking about the Elements of Design (see poster), focusing mostly on the form controls since most 1st and 2nd graders have a pretty good handle on using color, writing words and drawing pictures. We talked about how color can be used to convey feeling and emotion, typography or letters can set a tone or mood, pictures can create visual interest and communicate an idea more quickly than words.

When it came to form controls, we talked about apps and websites they use on their own devices and what things they do in those apps. The 2nd graders were especially knowledgeable about which controls are used to perform which actions. It was impressive – and a little scary.

Requirements

Because I was working with 1st and 2nd graders, I kept my vocabulary pretty basic. Instead of saying ‘we’re going to write requirements,’ I simply asked what they thought kids would want to see and do in the app. I let the kids guide the conversation, and ideas ranged from very specific (“have a search box” and “include a comparison chart”) – to broader (“make it a game” and “show pictures”). As kids threw out ideas, I wrote them on the whiteboard so we could refer to them later. Once we had a list of 6-8 ‘requirements,’ I let the kids start sketching.

Creating Initial Designs

I handed out mobile phone template sheets (download PDF) as a starting point for our design sketches. I asked the children to draw pictures of things children would see and do and referred them to the list of ‘features’ we had discussed.  After they had some initial ideas down on paper, I showed them this UI stencil and let them take turns adding more controls and icons to their designs.

Tips and tools for teaching user experience and interface design to children

Making Paper Prototypes

When the first couple of students finished their designs, I used their sketches to show the class how to turn their drawings into a prototype that could be used for testing and feedback purposes. Moving from paper to digital was clearly the highlight of my presentation. I used an app called POP that allows you to take photos of sketches and assign actions to tappable regions of the screen.

pop-prototype-app

Creating a digital prototype was akin to performing some sort of magic trick to the children. They loved seeing their designs on an actual phone and being able to tap different elements to move forward and backward within the screens.  I had limited time, so I was only able to create 1-2 prototypes during the sessions, but everyone was clamoring to have their designs become a prototype.

At the end of my session, I handed out take-home sheets so they could continue working on their mobile app – and their future careers as designers – at home.

Side One – Download PDF

Tips and tools for teaching user experience and interface design to children

Side Two – Download PDF

Tips and tools for teaching user experience and interface design to children

Happy Easter

easter-2015-1

Happy Easter! Did anyone else dye Easter eggs yesterday? I waited until the last minute to buy supplies and showed up at the store surprised to find that all of the kits were sold out. I later came across this idea for using packets of Kool-aid to dye eggs and was completely won over by the notion of our kitchen smelling like a candy factory. One more trip to the grocery store resulted in only a couple of available Kool-aid colors: red, purple and purplish red.

In the end, watercolor paint saved the day. We mixed lots of colors and then painted the pigment onto the eggs. I’m not sure which was more fun, mixing or painting. Regardless, our watercolor eggs turned out awesome. (more…)

Favorite Places: Farmers Branch Historical Park

Farmers Branch Historical Park

I love discovering something new in our hometown, and since our “hometown” is the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, there is quite a bit of ground to cover. In 7 years, we’ve yet to exhaust the list of great things to do with children. This weekend, we visited the Farmers Branch Historical Park for the first time. The 27-acre park is an outdoor museum of Texas heritage, with 12 historic structures dating from the 1860s to 1940s, including a school house, several log cabins, a general store and a caboose. (more…)

Apps We Love: Telling Stores + Making Movies

Apps and activities we love: Ideas for engaging your children in the art of narrating stories

Like many parents, we are trying to embrace technology in a way that encourages our children to think, play, explore and create. While watching movies and playing videos games are some of the ways we incorporate technology into our lives, hopefully, these won’t be the only ways. Now that our children have their own ‘personal devices,’ the goal of finding a healthy balance between passive pursuits and more engaging play seems even more critical.

Our children are natural storytellers. For my daughter, this means writing elaborate letters and essays filled with “text evidence” – a fancy phrase she learned in the first grade that means “details.” For my son, it means a similar string of highly imaginative details flowing from his mouth at a pace too quick to possibly capture on paper. I say that in a somewhat positive manner (who doesn’t want an imaginative child?), but, in reality, it can be a frustrating experience. While his imagination seems boundless, his ability to harness it remains a challenge.

And that’s where technology may be able to help. (more…)

DIY iPhone Case

So awesome to have a series of iPhone case 'skins' that I can swap out on a whim. I started out this project thinking it would be something fun to do with my daughter, who recently received an iPhone 4 after a series of family phone updates and hand-me-downs left us with an extra phone. Now that she has her own phone, she’s become very quick to ask for a new case each time she sees one she likes. When I saw the clear plastic cases on Amazon recently, I realized that it would be easy and very inexpensive to make her a series of ‘skins’ that she can change on a whim. And once I went to the craft store to pick out paper, I decided I wanted to make one or two for myself as well. (more…)

5 Reasons to Love Disney Imagicademy


Disney Imagicademy just released a new app and we love it: Mickey's Magical Arts World

It’s no secret that we’re huge Disney fans in our household, so when we were invited to try out the latest app in the Disney Imagicademy series of learning and creativity apps, I was thrilled. The Disney name is synonymous with imagination, so my expectations for Mickey’s Magical Arts World were high.  Over the past week, we explored all 5 sections of the creative learning app, and it’s clear, the experience does not disappoint. (more…)

Valentine’s Stationery

Make-your-own Valentine's craft activity: this is a great, open-ended activity for children. Just gather a bunch of craft supplies, leftover paper, etc. and get creative.

My daughter often leaves me notes at night wishing me a good night’s sleep, telling me what a great day she’s had or planting an idea in my mind for something we can do the following day. Sometimes she gets more inventive, like the time I opened my bathroom drawer to find a note that simply said “you are going to be pritty!” How awesome is that? Now I return the favor with lunchbox letters and bedside good morning notes.

With Valentine’s Day coming up, I thought it would be fun to have a stash of Valentine’s cards on hand for our daily love notes, so last weekend I set up a make-you-own-Valentine’s craft table.  (more…)

Surprise, We’re Going to Disneyworld!

How to surprise your children with a trip to Disney: tips and a boarding pass template.

As I hinted in this post at the end of the year, we had a big surprise in the works for our children’s Christmas present. It was a crazy hard secret to keep over the 6+ months of planning. In the end, our pet fish nearly caused an unintended reveal on Christmas Eve. My daughter spotted my husband leaving the house to take the fish to a friend’s. I’m not sure how well his story about Jeremy wanting to “practice having a fish before buying one” covered our secret, but it was all he could think of at the moment. (more…)

Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Tomodachi Life


Nintendo DS3 Animal Crossing New Leaf and Tomodachi Life reviewed by a six-year-old.

My children’s school recently introduced a program into their curriculum that teaches the basics of programming in a fun, video-game-like manner. While the coding curriculum hasn’t reached Jason or Jenna’s classroom yet, I’m super excited for when it does. Like most kids their age, my children LOVE video games, especially with our recent purchase of the Nintendo 2DS. But they also talk at times of becoming game designers. I secretly love this idea, probably because I’m biased toward technology (a field in which my husband and I are both employed).

So when I was invited by Clever Girls Collective to review two new Nintendo games with my daughter, I jumped at the chance. It was the perfect opportunity to talk to her about game design – what makes a game fun, what makes her continue to play, how would she design it to make it even better?

We received two Nintendo 3DS games: Animal Crossing™: New Leaf and Tomodachi Life. Both can be played on the 2DS as well. (more…)

Weekend Snapshot

weekend-gingerbread1

Decorating gingerbread houses is an annual holiday tradition in our family. This year’s two-house event was definitely scaled down compared to last year’s village creation, but we still had a messy fun time and Jason’s house definitely achieved a new record of colorfulness. Before we began, I separated all of the green, red and white Jelly Bellies from the rainbow of colors … to maintain a common palette, of course. Somewhere along the way, however,  Jason discovered the banned colors and covered his roof in them. And I have to admit, his house is my favorite one yet. (more…)

Flower Shop: Floral Arranging with Kids

Ideas and tips for letting your children create floral centerpieces for holiday meals and other family gatherings. Such a great way to get young children involved in holiday gatherings.

Last year, we visited relatives for Thanksgiving and my aunt had a perfect activity to involve my then-five-year-old daughter in the preparation of the Thanksgiving meal: making flower arrangements for the table. My first thought was, scissors, glass, water? Been around young children much? But then I watched my daughter carefully pour, cut, and arrange to her heart’s content. She loved creating the centerpieces, and it turned out to be a simple and easy way to involve her in what is often a hectic day of kitchen mayhem.

This Thanksgiving, I brought back the tradition of Jenna-created floral centerpieces. And it was such a hit, I think she’s officially in charge of all future floral arrangements chez Dyer. (more…)

Countdown to Christmas: Teaching Kids to Give

Instead of an advent calendar, I'm sending my kids secret letters that will encourage them to give back this holiday season.

Now that Thanksgiving is a wrap, we’re turning our attention to Christmas, which immediately brings to mind the subject of advent calendars. While I love the way advent calendars weave holiday excitement into the month of December, I’ve never been a big fan of giving our children extra gifts leading up to a day full of even more gifts.

This year, I’m trying a new way of counting down to the big day – one that I hope will place more emphasis on giving than receiving. I’ll share the details of the plan on the Tiny Prints blog next week. In the meantime, I’ve posted a free editable Photoshop template here and be sure to check out the Tiny Prints holiday collection

Update 12/1/2014

Check out the Tiny Prints blog for more details on our approach to counting down to Christmas this year, including top ideas for getting your children involved in charitable giving. (more…)

Thanksgiving Table: Last-Minute Name Card Ideas

Simple last-minute place card ideas for your Thanksgiving table.

When I wrapped up this project for my recent guest post on Modern Parents, Messy Kids, I was feeling well ahead of the Thanksgiving curve. Our linens were hand-stamped, our turkey napkin holders were created, and we still had several weeks to wrap up any outstanding details.

Now we’re less than 2 days from Thanksgiving, and the possibility of my daughter creating place cards using post-it notes is becoming more likely. Sadly, it wouldn’t be the first time she made impromptu name cards with post-it notes.

To avoid this fate, I’ve assembled a few ideas for super simple place cards, all of which use easy-to-find materials. Now I just have to choose a favorite.

Sources: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8

 

Technology and Tinkering

Some thoughts on kids, technology and the new Tinker Crates from Kiwi Crate.

I read quite a bit about children and technology. As someone who works in the tech industry, the contradiction between being a designer who is constantly seeking out ‘the latest’ and being a parent who is simultaneously sheltering my kids from this same tendency is something I think about almost daily.

While we have boundaries in place like most parents (though I’ve read that parents in the tech industry tend to be stricter about screen time and device usage), we still struggle with creating a balance between ‘real’ and digital experiences. And as my kids made me realize last weekend when I looked out my window and saw the scene above, they don’t seem aware of a difference between real and digital.  (more…)