Working with kids can be fun and very rewarding. Kids’ interests and involvement with technology is changing so fast, it is critical that we involve their voices when coming up with products for them. There are a variety of ways you can involve them indevelopment, no matter what age.
At Ideas To Go, we’ve worked with kids of all ages, and have come up with a few tips and tricks the will lead to a smooth process that's rich with quality content:
Under age 4, we have our Creative Consumers® associates moms and dads do a preparation assignment with their kids and then ideate on behalf of them. We don't recommend doing this with regular consumers—we find they can’t separate their kids’ needs and wishes from their own.
For ages 5-7, we do a stimulus panel of kids. We have them do a preparation assignment (often with a parent’s help) and have them come in and talk about their homework, do some fun activities and ask them a bunch of questions. It is more of a panel discussion than an ideation, but, used correctly, it can stimulate a lot of ideas.
For ages 8+, we train kids in ideation. At 8, their brains have developed enough to be able to see connections in unlike things and be able to understand metaphors—two critical components in critical thinking.
For ideating with kids over 8, here are some tips for getting the most out of their contributions:
Schedule lots of breaks. Whereas I recommend a break every two hours for adults, you need a break every hour for 8-11 year olds and every 90 minutes for 12-18 year olds.
Help keep them stay still. I know this sounds silly, but kids will swing around in chairs and can’t sit still, especially boys. You’ll avoid that distraction with chairs that don’t spin or have wheels. Ideally, have lower chairs where kids’ feet can touch the ground. It physically “grounds” them as well as helps them not feel so small. All that being said, don’t stress about their fidgeting—it’s natural.
Pay attention to blood sugar. Provide snacks—that is the BEST way to change the energy of the room, but beware of high sugar snacks where you’ll have big blood sugar spikes and dips.
Talk to them in an age-appropriate way, but don’t be condescending. Talk TO them, not LIKE them. Be yourself and authentic, but don’t resort to gimmicks to relate to them. Lay off the thesaurus and use age-appropriate words.
At the beginning, clarify that you are not a teacher and this is not a classroom. Kids this age are absolutely wired for school. They see the moderator as the authority and are looking for the “RIGHT” answer. Spend some time debunking that and make sure that they know that you are looking for THEIR answers and ANY answers are the right ones. Use humor to reinforce that you are in charge, but not the teacher who will be grading them.
Over-emphasize the process and what you want from them. Tell them the process at the beginning and reference it several times through the session. Remind them often (seriously, like every 10 minutes) what kinds of output you want out of them. It helps them to know where they are and what they are supposed to be doing.
As my colleague Susan wrote, a child-like imagination has a lot to offer. It just takes a few tweaks to standard ideation technique.
Christine Haskins is an Innovation Process Consultantat Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.