Creative thinking is a skill that anyone can use. There are plenty of tools, games, and ideas in this article to help you start those conversations with your kids to help create another generation of design thinkers.
You can help kids start thinking creatively at any age. The right toys and tools are a great place to start. And while pens and pencils are a great option, they aren’t appropriate for every age.
Get started with toys and games that encourage problem-solving at the age level of your child. Here are a few ideas.
It never hurts to have plenty of art supplies around. Pens, pencils, paints and plenty of paper to create on. Create a space for kids to play with you and even draw together.
Something as simple as crayons and coloring books is enough to jump-start a child’s creativity. (And yours too.) Just having these items around the house is enough to encourage graphic design thinking.
Make or buy a color wheel and talk about color theory and how it applies to design. A color wheel – especially one with moving parts – can help explain relationships between colors. (Here’s an inexpensive one to try.)
It’s a fun tool that comes with an easy to understand visual. (And it can help kids feel like they are playing with some of your “work toys.”)
Digital Drawing Software
We know that much of your work likely happens on a computer and your kids will know that as well. Providing a digital tool for them to dabble in graphic design is a fun option.
Tux Paint is open source drawing software designing for children. It’s used in schools around the world and has an easy to use interface for kids ages 3 to 12. It even has a cool cartoon mascot that can help kids through creative exercises. Or you could try a simple iPad drawing app like Paper.
Make games out of everyday tasks that encourage kids to think within creative constraints. Games can be a great way to do this.
What makes a design game work is playing by the rules. Explaining to kids that you can’t just do anything you want as a graphic designer, that you have to listen to others and create something based on what they tell you.
Design a Business Card
Craft a controlled game where you create a business card (or poster or whatever) on a certain size and with some rules attached. (Maybe each child has to use their name in the design.) Sit down and create these designs together and provide an opportunity to talk through them when complete.
Conversation is a big part of the graphic design process. Go back to phase two of the game and ask that something from that conversation is incorporated into the design. Make it fun and silly, or play with elements that are already there to maintain interest in the project.
This project can extend to designing a logo from each child’s name and even make it an annual event. It can be a lot of fun to see how their name changes and is redesigned over the years.
Typography Match Game
Make your own match game in the vein of eye spy. Grab a stack of magazines and pick a type style; ask kids to find a matching style.
You can also play this game in the car, using road signs and billboards.
The game is a great opportunity to talk about similarities in typefaces – serifs vs. sans serifs vs. scripts, ascenders and descenders, contrast and color.
For older kids, there are plenty of font matching games available online as well.
OK, this is a commercially available game, but the cards are packed with cool designs from The Oatmeal and this game is fun for adults, too.
The Exploding Kittens card game is probably designed more for older kids, but it can jumpstart a great conversation about how graphic design is everywhere, and how creative ideas can turn into products that people go out and buy.
Maybe it’s even a conversation starter for careers in graphic design.
Sometimes the best way to get kids excited about graphic design is to talk about it or explore creativity together.
Design Your Own T-Shirts
Make something tangible. Design a t-shirt design together and actually put it on shirts that you can wear. (Iron-on transfer kits that you can create and use at home are an easy option.)
Create a design together, print it out and iron on shirts for your whole family.
Design a shirt for a special event or as a gift. Sit down with your kids and make something together – even younger kids that aren’t ready to design on a computer can tell you how to create the design as you work on it together.
Bonus: Take a field trip if you know a screen printer in your area and get a custom design printed so that kids can see how a design gets on a shirt using that print process.
Draw a Picture
There’s nothing like sketching or doodling to make the design process seem like fun. And pretty much anyone can do it. (You don’t have to be a great artist.)
Take this idea from a graphic design workshop I attended and try it with the kids:
Grab one piece of paper and give everyone something to draw with. Each person gets to add to the picture as you pass it around. There are no real rules; there’s no goal in mind. Each person gets to draw something to contribute to the design as it comes to them.
You can set constraints such as each person gets to draw until they pick up the pencil or each person only gets to add one shape.
The story on paper will grow and expand and change as each person takes a turn. You might end up with a scene at a park or a silly monster.
And this design concept is just like working on projects with plenty of people involved they can always take on a shape of their own.
Explain It Visually
One of the best exercises in graphic design comes from an explanation of what designer Dean Vipond does in classrooms when talking about design with children. (It’s so simple and quite engaging and informative!)
While his talk includes plenty of cool ideas to put graphic design into perspective for kids, his representation of the same sentence in two ways is most engaging:
I showed them a simple sentence, which we all read out together: ‘I met a big dog.’ (See the visual above.) Then I showed them the same sentence, for us to read out again. See how changing the size of the word ‘big,’ makes the sentence more exciting? It makes you say that word differently than the last time, and makes you wonder just how big this dog is.
You can learn more in the full article.
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