Tapping the Magic of Childhood to Design Playful STEAM Experiences

by Rosanna Lopez
April 5, 2019

The experience of childhood

Photo: SparkleLab

During the initial phase of onboarding and professional development exercises with the SparkleLAB team, we spend a good part of our time remembering the experience of childhood.

Growing up in the Philippines in the 80’s and 90’s, my fondest childhood memories are those of the rainy season—the torrential downpour that marks the months of August and September. I recall huddling under a blanket with a flashlight while rain thundered down on a tin roof overhead, journeying through worlds and engaging in adventures of epic proportions as I read book after book. It’s a magical sensation similar to what a child feels on Christmas morning, or when she wakes at the break of dawn on her birthday—the delicious feeling of excitement and anticipation with the certainty that wonderful things are about to happen.

These feelings of joy, wonder, thrill, and delight are the very emotions we wish to capture and share with young people. They are at the heart of the SparkleLAB experience.

Writing in their journals first and then sharing these stories with one another, SparkleLAB teammates recount memories of their own childhood—running around barefoot, playing tag in the rain; elaborate tea parties with dolls and stuffed animals; afternoons of capture the flag; building forts with trusted allies and an armful of blankets; drawing maps of imagined worlds; battling pirates with cardboard swords; capturing fireflies in the night.

It is these memories–and their emotive qualities–that guide our team as we architect playful experiences for young people that foster learning.

A place where wonderful things happen 

“For wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.”
– Plato

Photo: SparkleLab

There are many ways to describe SparkleLAB.

On one hand, the Lab acts as research and development space where new models of teaching, learning, and student engagement are developed, implemented and assessed. Our interdisciplinary team of educators, designers, and technologists develop unique STEAM education programs that provide young people with opportunities to meaningfully engage with technology and take on the roles of designers, inventors, artists and engineers.

Alongside program development, the Lab develops smart tools, resources and professional development programs for educators that support playful learning across a variety of domains. These resources help nurture the development of 21st century skills among program participants–skills like collaboration, critical thinking, empathy, curiosity and creativity, among others.

Photo: SparkleLab

To the kids and teens that frequent our space, SparkleLAB is a cozy hangout where their interests are validated, passions pursued, friendships formed, and where imagination and creativity rule the day. At times, the Lab acts as the secret headquarters of a movement known as the Resistance, where recruits hone their game design skills to restore playfulness, fun and laughter to a dystopian Philippines where play and games are outlawed in the name of productivity and progress. Other times, the Lab is home to a mad scientist named Steele and her toy-making apprentice named Cogs who have the power to travel through time and learn about the history of toys and endow them with the ability to move, speak, see, and think.

Since we opened in 2013, thousands of children and families have taken part in afterschool programs, summer camps, hackathons, and design challenge sleepovers that combine play, gamified and interest-driven learning experiences in areas such as game design and development; soft circuits, e-textiles and wearable technology; toy making, design, engineering and digital fabrication; robotics, electronics and the Internet of things; and animation, filmmaking and new frontiers in storytelling.

The Path Ahead

In 2019, SparkleLAB is founding a one-of-a-kind school, utilizing best practices and lessons learned over six years of research and development. Beginning with kindergarten and adding an additional grade each year, the school will serve as a prototype for K-12 education and 21st century learning: a space for research, product development, teacher training and school leadership.

The goal is to prepare young people for an uncertain future by transforming the world into a learning resource and testing ground for their ideas and innovations. From slums to vehicular traffic, dengue outbreaks and natural disasters, the Philippines itself becomes an opportunity for research, development, testing and 21st century learning.

 

Rosanna Lopez designs playful experiences that encourage young people to utilize technology and the principles of human-centered design to develop projects with a positive impact on their communities. She has worked with young people from the Philippines, Palestine, Argentina, the Caribbean, Spain, and the United States through organizations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Institute of Play, Harlem School of the Arts, Voices Beyond Walls, and through a number of independent projects. She is currently based in Manila, and is Founder, Chief Product Officer, and Prankmaster of Sparklelab Design and Innovation Hub.