ITP Thesis Week 2009
Monday, May 4 - Friday, May 8

Pockets-Full-of-Wonder: Make Nature Your Playground

Cynthia Hilmoe

Pockets-Full-of-Wonder gets today's child outside to play in nature! Nuanced technology adds a touch of magic to meet these Digital Natives where they are.

Pockets-Full-of-Wonder gets today's child, the Digital Native, playing outdoors! Seeing possibilities for play, children fill their pockets with gadgets that help make nature comes alive. Instinctively, the kids gather materials -- a manipulated photograph, a pressed leaf, water quality data from a stream --- that can be used in a Do-It-Yourself Kit project. Before they know it, they are teaching their friends how to make a handmade book, print or data visualization.

In another DIY Kit, children tackle the challenge of making their own wired field gadgets. With eGadgets that act more like a ball, a stick and a cardboard box than an iPod or iPhone, children invent modern twists on good old-fashioned games like hide-and-seek. An online interface gives them a place to share their accomplishments, helps them make things and download local programming.

Kids drive the experience with little intervention from adults. The range of possibilities will tempt even the most apathetic and squeamish child. Interpretive staff, teachers and parents see the system as an antidote to the adverse impacts of pervasive technology. Pockets-Full of Wonder makes a child see nature as their playground.

With mock-ups and simulations I made of the system parts, children, parents and teachers have helped me complete the define and discover phases of this design project. Next steps in the design process include, among other tasks, prototyping fully functional eGadgets and programming DIY project templates.

(1) Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder' and publications associated with the Child & Nature Network, the interdisciplinary movement behind this issue.
(2) Projects that integrate technology into natural history interpretive programs. Ambient Woods, a digitally enhanced field-trip for schoolchildren or 'mixed reality space,' and the plentiful scholarly work surrounding it.
(3) Programs like National Park Junior Ranger Program, Florida's Fairchild Botanical Garden's Fairchild Challenge, Minnesota's Ramsey County Tamarack Nature Center Redesign, etc. etc., etc., etc.
(4) Many examples of existing electrified and microcontrolled toys aimed at children's outdoor activities and the nature connection.
(5) Bill Buxton's book, Sketching User Experience.
(6) Theory of Change,
(7) Social Metrics: and global sustainable venture competition metrics protocol
(8) Articles on game design theory, esp. on the arguments surrounding the notion of immersion.
(9) Gee, James Paul, Good Video Games and Good Learning,
(10) Koster, Ralph, A Theory of Fun for Game Design (Paraglyph Press, 2004)
(11) Hughes, Linda, “Beyond the Rules of the Game: Why Are Rooie Rules Nice?,” The Game Design Reader, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman (MIT Press, 2005)

Commercial Context: Parents of elementary school children, initially 3rd to 4th graders. Children.
Institutional Context: Institutions or organizations whose mission it is to interest children in nature, whether through art, science or a blend of the two.

User Scenario
Children would use the electronic toys and their traditional complements, collected into a specially designed wearable (vest or backpack), in settings ranging from their backyard or school yards to the open woods. In an institutional or business context, especially when the mission is environmental stewardship and conservation, revenue-generating programs would engage artist-scientist teams to help children utilize the data and information collected by the field tools to create artifacts that are meaningful to the children. A website (rather than an elaborate networked system or wired woods) would help accommodate sharing information and creative work as well as building a social context for the endeavor.

Pockets-Full-of-Wonder is a product line of children's toys, both traditional and educational tech, and DIY workshop kits deployed in a context of institutional workshops and/or socially networked community. The toys act, implicitly or explicitly, as creative field observation devices. Children and their parents will select from an array of toys and guides to fill a pocket-covered backpack or vest (wearables) suited to outdoor play. The DIY workshop kits and/or scientist/artist guides associated with institutional programming help children create personal artifacts from data or information collected from the field. The intention of the product line is to prompt a sensory experience and informal play.