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Virtual Reality for Kids: Enhancing Digital Literacy and Creativity

design research, design for VR, workshops design, workshops facilitation, play design, creative play, play for learning
‘Makerspaces in the early years: Enhancing digital literacy and creativity’ (MakEY) was a 30-month project funded by the EU H2020 Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) program. The project aimed to further research and innovation in the area of young children’s digital literacy and creative design skills. Teams from seven EU countries (Denmark, Germany, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Romania, UK) worked in partnership with academics in Australia, Canada, Colombia, South Africa, and the USA, creating a global network of scholars who will work together to further understanding of the role of makerspaces in developing young children’s digital literacy and creativity.

I was invited to collaborate with Dr. Dylan Yamada-Rice (RCA) and Deborah Rodriguez (Glück Workshops) to explore how makerspace-style workshops can provide opportunities for young children to play and create in relation to emerging virtual reality  (VR) technologies and software. 

Play workshops with the kids from Junior Lab at the Berlin FabLab. We used both heavy hardware VR set and this lightweight version to investigate the differences.
 

Before this project, Deborah helped me to run play workshops to test Avakai Twins at my startup VaiKai.

Dylan worked previously on the investigation of my design intentions on Avakai dolls in relation to how kids were using them. 

An example of Dylan’s work experiences that influenced the aims of our part of the MakEY project was her involvement as the lead researcher for the study Children and Virtual Reality: Emerging Possibilities and Challenges.
One of the key findings from this study was that children wanted to play across physical and virtual spaces. These findings encouraged us to consider children’s desire to make links across physical and virtual domains.



As a designer of connected toys, I was mainly interested to understand the similarities and differences, as well as transitions and blending between children’s play and making with physical and virtual materials.


We‘ve described our study in this publication in Chapter 5, contributing to the very limited at the time amount of research that has been undertaken on children’s use of VR for entertainment, play, and creativity.


Methods

During our secondments, we have sought to produce different workshops for young children to play and create across virtual and physical domains in different ways. 

We have recorded these with short videos, photographs, field notes, and artifacts from the making. We have begun analyzing the data using multimodal transcription and visual content analysis and then drawing out emerging themes.

The findings from Dylan’s  CVR study gave us the idea to let children take a physical object into the virtual world acting as a transition, or an ‘anchor’ that helps to navigate them of where they are and where their physical body is in relation to the virtual environment. 
One can refer this method to a ‘Totem’ in the film Inception:

Firstly, children were asked to create a world for the Avakai doll using physical materials.
Secondly, children were asked to recreate their physical making in the virtual world using Google Tilt Brush.
This is a 360 video we made during the workshop, so you can have an idea of how we did it.


Children make sense of creating in VR in relation to their experience of physical making. However, creating in either platform requires an understanding of different affordances. E.g. it was difficult for children at first to understand that there is no back point when drawing in VR so they are never stopped by pressure such as when a pen hits a piece of paper.



Secondment at Eureka Children’s Museum, UK

This secondment workshop took place in a children’s museum in Halifax. We knew ahead of time that the number of participants might be large and also as young as two. Therefore the workshop was planned to provide an introduction to VR.

Children were invited to create an object out of cardboard, paper, and tape to add to a city. Children or their parents were then invited to sit in the middle of the city and photograph it using a 360 app called “Cardboard Camera”.

Children were then able to view their creations in 360 by mounting the phone to a VR headset.


Young children were more engaged in physical making than the VR part of the workshop.

Parents were engaged and interested in the VR part of the workshop and as a result, they worked very collaboratively for long periods with their children in the physical making part of the workshop.

Workshops allow children to collaborate across ages and generations.
The play was a large part of the experience, this include role-play during both the making stage and also when photographing the city, e.g. some children went inside their creations to appear in the 360 experience.