Forside Shop Design & Fablab Publikationer & Værktøjer Om Kids n' Tweens Log ind

Anthology: Communicating with children

Communicating with children: Play, learning and media in a product perspective

This anthology consists of 10 articles focusing on the challenges involved in developing products for children. The articles have a communication perspective and discuss topics such as mediated play and learning, user-led design, storytelling and cultural experiences for children. The anthology contains both theoretical and practical articles, and the writers range from researchers to practitioners.

Keywords: children’s culture, children’s media, play, learning, communication, tourism, design, product development, marketing.

The author Bjarne Reuter once wrote about bringing up children: “Generally speaking, I stopped acting as if I knew it all: it comes with age. Life has taught me that children are born without an instruction manual. You have to go out and find that instruction manual on your own” (Berlingske Tidende, October 14, 2001, Fri, p. 4).

At the time, Bjarne Reuter had become father to his fourth child, but his many experiences with children had not taught him everything about children – far from it.

Like Reuter, this anthology doesn’t pretend to “know it all”, nor to be a child-rearing instruction manual. Instead, it is meant as an inspiration to those who want to go out and meet children face to face, talk to them, engage with them, learn from them and create products with them. Encompassing both theoretical and practical articles, the anthology focuses on the complex intersection between children's culture, learning, design and media, where the common denominator is communication with children. Covering such a broad field of study, the anthology contains contributions from both researchers and practitioners.

The first part of the anthology is about learning in a digital age.

Lotte Nyboe writes about children’s media culture and describes it as a participatory culture or a doing culture, where users are active and participating creators of content, rather than just passive recipients. Children thus have a daily life full of digital media, and although there are differences between groups of media users, an increasing number of media-related activities are conducted through the Internet.

Michael Bjørn examines how children are able, through digital storytelling, play, dramatization and reflection, to develop a variety of knowledge and skills. Bjørn describes an expanded learning concept that sheds light on the development of children's skills through play.

Lars Elbæk and Lise Langagergaard Rødbro outline how students interact through the use of digital video in sports, using a video platform with features specifically designed for school physical education. The article documents how students are inspired to imitate and creatively develop body movements in sport, and how they communicate reflectively about their exercises. It offers a model for digitally mediated communication, in this case digital video.

The second part of the anthology is about children as consumers and collaborators.

Jørgen Rasmussen and Tina Holm Sørensen describe what it means to develop WITH children, not just FOR them. They stress the importance of understanding children's culture and accepting children as experts in their own field and equal partners in a given development process. The article describes how to involve children in development, ranging from a user level to a level where children are actual design partners. It offers practical advice on such design processes, which can be very rewarding. The authors assert that the benefits of involving children usually fully compensate for the hassle.

Jacob Gjørtz shows, in practical terms, how to plan and conduct marketing and communication aimed at children and their families. The most important point to note is that children are not just small people but are a complex target group, consisting of several independent groups, which should be separately addressed. When your target group is below 1.20 m, marketing can be extremely difficult unless you have a solid understanding of the group. The success of a product marketing strategy depends to a great extent on proper planning, which involves a well-defined strategic objective, accurate identification of the target audience for the product, a clear message about the product's benefits and an overview of the relevant creative tools and media platforms.

Helle Skovbjerg Karoff shows how it is possible to have children as partners when the product is research data. Her article is about children's voices – involving children in data production. Children are offered a voice in play research by using cameras, which have a dual role as a tool for data collection and as a toy. It is argued that this method provides the researcher with access to experiences of play and everyday life that would otherwise be barred.

The third part of the anthology deals with the power of narration.

Jens Peter Madsen asks the question: Why should we tell stories in Danish daycare institutions? Storytelling, he argues, should be preserved as a worthwhile and stimulating activity in a family context, as well as in daycare centres and schools, and that storytelling can become a key tool for learning and for the formation of a contemporary curriculum. Storytelling is about the ability to form internal mental images, an ability which is being enhanced by the use of digital media.

Henriette Vognsgaard, Benny Kaas Jensen and Katrine Anna Jensen give an introduction to MeeWee Room – the story of body and play in technology. The MeeWee Room is an interactive sensory and learning space for children, and the article describes how the room and its narratives can serve as an educational tool for the development of aesthetic sensitivity, creativity and action competence.

Lars Konzack describes a location-based, alternate reality, pervasive, role-playing game called Fredericia Battle 1849. It is a game designed for mobile devices such as smartphones, with a target group of 8-12-year-old children. The story of the game is the rise of one man from being a soldier to becoming a general during the war against Prussia in 1849, and the game makes interesting connections between play, learning, storytelling and game mechanics. The article offers insights and suggestions for the development and improvement of such games.

In the last article, Sten Rentzhog analyses what he describes as living history at Egeskov. He discusses the prospects for role play at Egeskov Castle as a means of attracting and reaching its audience. Challenges and opportunities for Egeskov are analysed in the light of three cases relating to historical attractions in the US and Europe, which introduced role play and living history methods. The article gives a short historical outline of role play as a method for bringing museums and cultural memorials to life and points out some of its general advantages and limitations.

The articles thus represent a number of varied and highly relevant studies from a complex and broad field. It is hoped that the anthology will contribute to the formation of both new theory and new means of communicating with children and to the development of new products to support children's culture and learning. The anthology is a result of the project Leg og Læring – Kids n' Tweens Lifestyle, designed to help companies that work with children and young people in the Region of Southern Denmark understand and reach children aged 3-12 years.

Participants share their latest knowledge about the target group and exchange ideas for new activities and experiences for children and young people. The long-term goal is that businesses gain market advantage and are able to attract more tourists, customers and partners. The study is conducted in three laboratories that work with children and explore young people's lifestyles and their implications for commercial business. The individual laboratories’ work is not specific to particular areas of commerce, which allows companies to meet and collaborate across disciplines and cultures. When the cards are shuffled in a new way, it extends the possibilities for innovation and new opportunities in each industry.

The project will run for four years and is a structural project supported by the EU Regional Development Fund. It is managed by Spinderihallerne in Vejle.

The editors hope that you will enjoy reading the articles, which offer some advice and pointers, although it is up to the individual reader to bring these elements together. Where children are involved, you never know quite where you will end up – but what is certain is that you're never too old to play and learn.