An Introduction to the Design Process: Kid Edition

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Design thinking is generally defined as the process through which designers and engineers create something new. It’s not just for professionals, though; you’re using design thinking whenever you find a new way to solve a problem.
Parents can give their kids a head start by teaching them the design process.  Once kids have mastered the steps, there are plenty of activities that allow kids to practice the process. You may be surprised to find how many projects can be solved using the design process! From hands-on craft projects to digital creations, kids can apply design thinking in many different arenas of their lives.The design process comprises five steps:
1. Identify problem
​This step may seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked! Kids need a clear understanding of the problem before they can start to solve it. To get started, ask questions like, “What is the end goal of this project?” and “How will you know if it was a success?” Once you have the parameters clearly defined, kids will have a better idea of what they’re working on and how to be successful.
2. Brainstorm
Kids can let their creativity run wild as they think of all the possible solutions to the problem they’ve set out to solve. Not all of the ideas have to be feasible! This stage is about using their imaginations to find new, innovative ways to solve what may be a simple problem.
3. Design
​In this step, it’s time to get realistic. Have kids take a look at all of the ideas they generated in the brainstorming step and pick out the one that seems most feasible. If they are having a hard time narrowing it down, think through each of the solutions, including which ones would take the most time and resources, which one would be the most engaging for kids, and which one best addresses the problem at hand. Once you have decided on a course of action, it’s time to plan it out. Have them determine what materials they’ll need and what steps they need to take to execute the solution.
4. Build/Test/Redesign
​Once you have a plan in place, it’s time to get hands on! First, have kids build their solution, and then evaluate it. The only way to know if a design works is to test it, so give it a test run and decide if it solves the problem outlined in the first step. If it doesn’t, rebuild and retest until kids are satisfied with their design.
5. Share solution
The last step in the design process allows kids to share their solutions and wrap up the activity. You can talk through what worked (and what didn’t), what they would do differently next time, and if their design was the best solution for the problem. This step is crucial to build teamwork skills and emphasize the importance of collaboration.
There are a number of engineering projects for kids that allow them to practice the design process; some of our favorites include building a catapult, designing a boat that floats, and building a solar oven. The design process can also be applied to almost any activity, from arts and crafts to putting on a play. What fun design projects have you done with your kids?

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