Design + Make Summer Fellowship is Some Work and All Play
Design + Make Summer Fellows in the VCAM’s Maker Arts Space spent eight weeks designing and prototyping objects of play for Turning Points for Children and Playful Learning Landscapes.
This summer’s Design + Make Summer Fellowship gave five students a two-month immersion in design, digital fabrication, and product design. The Visual Culture, Arts, and Media-sponsored fellows had eight weeks to design and prototype objects for two community local organizations—Turning Points for Children and Playful Learning Landscapes—in VCAM’s Maker Arts Space.
“I knew I wanted to do something with play and design this summer,” said program coordinator Kent Watson of the program’s second summer. “It's a research interest of mine. I teach a course here at Haverford on toy design and I even used to work in a science museum building and fixing interactive exhibits. It's been wonderful to see my interests as an educator and a maker line up with student interests here on campus for the fellowship.”
Turning Points for Children is a social service agency with programs for families struggling against economic and environmental difficulties. The organization requested the students design objects of play for families visiting their office for programs and services. They wanted these concrete objects to communicate Turning Point’s five protective factors, encourage social and emotional competence, and be fit for a wide range of ages and abilities.
The five students split into two teams to tackle the projects. Neha Thumu ’24, Kit McCaney ’23, and Isabel Ray ’23 called their team Wooden Dragons and created a pyramid puzzle. Each face of the puzzle is labeled with a protective factor and the pieces that fit into that face are examples of that factor. For example, the “Concrete Supports in Times of Need” side features a fireman’s hat to represent a fire station, a cross to represent a hospital, and an apple to represent a food bank.
“Through making icons, labels, color-coded puzzle pieces, and faces that support each other in a pyramid shape,” said Ray, “we were able to make a memory aid that is fun to play with, easy to use, and sparks conversation between caregivers and children about strengthening their family’s well being.
The Sun Buddies—Silvan Sooksatan ’21 and Julia Coletti ’21—created a track for a marble, spinning top, or a 3D-printed humanoid to move down.
“For this project, we approached the toy as a representative journey and wanted a simple way to begin a conversation between parent and child while also providing a sense of joy and entertainment,” explained Sooksatan. “I was inspired by an old game from my grandmother's house that had a marble that rolled back and forth down a track.”
In their toy, the marble, top, or humanoid stops at five acrylic houses on the way down that each feature a laser engraved representation of one of the five protective factors. For example, the positive social connection house has the phrase and an image of connecting gears.
The team’s second projects were for Playful Learning Landscapes, a Philadelphia organization that turns everyday places for children and caregivers, such as public transportation, grocery stores, and parks, into areas of play that encourage discovery and learning in daily life.
They challenged the two teams to do just that—to turn an everyday place into an area of play through an object or structure. Additionally, the projects had to be meaningful, joyful, socially interactive, actively engaging, and something that people could engage with multiple times.
The Wooden Dragons’ design, called Wildlife I-Spy, turns an open space into an interactive exploration of ecology, the environment, and habitats. It includes a bench with laser-printed cut-outs of native plant and animal life, windchimes that teach about food chains, and a lifecycle wheel of a monarch butterfly.
“It encourages kids to move around a park, interact with their caregivers, learn about ecosystems, and build empathy for local wildlife,” said Ray. “My favorite component of our I-Spy game is the Monarch butterfly life cycle wheel, because I think kids will have fun spinning it and reading about our Maggie the Monarch character as she progresses through the stages of life. I’m also really proud of how the hand-painted images turned out!”
The Sun Buddies designed shadow flowers, shadow hopscotch, and a shadow puzzle. A shadow flower is a fixed pole with rotating petals, each holding a colored acrylic sheet. The pedals project a different colored shadow and as people move the pedals and intersect them, they make new colors. Shadow hopscotch is a set of lofted panels that create a projected shadow of hopscotch spaces for jumping and the shadow puzzle game involves trying to align acrylic puzzle pieces to altered outlines. For example, fitting an angled oval into a circle by changing the angle of the shadow.
These structures help children create spatial awareness, experiment and explore colors, learn about light, and find fun while seeking shade. The projections will also change as the sun moves through the sky, making each experience with the shadow structures unique.
As Wooden Dragons and Shadow Buddies designed objects of fun and learning for others, they gained experience with the tools and software housed in Haverford’s Maker Arts Space. In addition to coming up with their creative ideas, they had to learn to prototype and fabricate them using 3D printing and modeling, CNC routers, vinyl and laser cutters, and more. They also had a lot of fun themselves.
“I've definitely learned a lot throughout this fellowship—whether that be more about play-based learning and child development or about 3D-modeling software, prototyping, and physical making,” said Coletti. “It's been a pretty rewarding experience overall to go from the very abstract brainstorming phase where all ideas are possible, to actually building a structure which exists—and all the bumps and mishaps which are bound to occur along the way. It's definitely made me think a lot more about the possibilities of public space and how playful learning—not only for kids but intergenerational gathering, collaboration, and fun—can be built into cities. It's also just very fun to try and re-learn or practice how to play again!”
The Sun Buddies’ and Wooden Dragons’ projects will be on display in the VCAM’s Create Space at the beginning of this academic year.
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ campus-funded summer work.