How Sensory Play and Co-Creation With Kids Can Activate an Innovation Mindset

Sensory play with my son helped me stay sane during lockdown and emerge inspired and full of ideas

This article first appeared in UX Collective—a publication on Medium—on 16h July 2020.

Like me, my four-year-old is incredibly curious, eager to discover new things. When lockdown hit and we had to shield, because of his respiratory medical condition, I resigned myself to fulfilling his needs and putting mine on the back-burner. This was supposed to be the eve of my freedom slowly returning, after a year of colic-filled and very sleepless nights with my soon-to-turn 1-year-old. I had visions of long work-filled days, finishing my website, socialising, networking and absorbing evening lectures and workshops like a sponge once again.

Instead, I would now use this time to be the four-year-old’s full-time teacher, spiritual guide and servant. And as for the one-year-old, he would just have to sit on my lap or wander about making his own fun… I couldn’t manage activities for two. Sorry dude. I felt exhausted at the thought and like many others, resentful too. However, I was also feeling incredibly grateful about not having to juggle full-time childcare with a full-time job on top, so I ploughed on.

We indulged in cardboard games, phonics (thanks Katie’s Classroom), numeracy and various incredible creative activities that were set by his nursery as well as frequent film-filled afternoons. He was having fun. I was feeling equally proud of my effort and exhausted. It wasn’t sustainable. In order to give, I need to make sure my ‘well’ is full. I need to feel inspired and I wasn’t. I was slowly losing steam.

I considered what I needed from this time to survive. However, I soon decided that surviving wasn’t good enough. That to be in with a chance of emerging with a positive mindset, I needed to be thriving. So I started to think about how I could satisfy my own creative urges and activate my sense of wonder during lockdown too. Discovery is one of my core values and learning is what drives me in life. Making comes close second, but mainly in service to learning. I wondered if there was a way to work side-by-side with my four-year-old? Could I come up with activities that would motivate us both?

There were many people such as Lucy Tiffney and Marguerite London doing wonderful craft-along IGTVs during lockdown. Also, an artist called Nick White whose work celebrates play and collaboration, makes lovely work with his 2-year-old daughter as a form of co-creation. I took inspiration from lots of the ideas I was seeing during lockdown and started to design activities. I knew intuitively that sensory connection was key to the success of this experiment as it would keep us focused and stimulated.

Our activities included painting paper and cutting shapes from it to make textured collages; learning about and making dumplings from scratch; exploring natural colour in the garden; making naturally-scented-bath bombs; creating repeat rainbow patterned surface designs and making a paddling-pool beauty salon. The list goes on.

I started to find my mojo again and I could see the excitement in my son too. He was happy to be doing fun projects and getting positive attention from me at the same time. What I wasn’t expecting was how each of these projects opened the doors for innovation.

You can read the whole article here on Medium.