How might we better help children transition to independence when starting school for the first time?
Role: Design Researcher, Industrial Designer (Individual Project)

School is a crucial experience for children by providing opportunities for development in many different facets of their lives: socially, intellectually, culturally, and emotionally. However, some children are more equipped to handle this transition to starting school than others, and the difficulty of the transition can hinder their access to these opportunities. Utilizing my research into child development to help facilitate this transition, The Buddy aims to help foster positive attachment with the primary caregiver and scaffold support to children during this time. The system provides comfort and support to the child while also educating the parent to help them feel more confident, with additional support by working within skills to normalize the use of the system.

This project was produced with the Lovevery visual brand language in mind, envisioned as an extension of the existing system provided to schools for children ages 4 to 5.

Key Skills:

  • Psychology and Design Research
  • System Concept Design
  • 3D Modeling and Rendering

Tools Used:

  • SolidWorks and Keyshot
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Sewing and Physical Prototyping

Research + Prototyping

Research for this project was done through interviews with Dr. Sharon Carver, a developmental psychologist and director of the Carnegie Mellon Children's School, and Anne O'Neil, a current parent and teacher at the Children's School. This was done in conjunction with secondary research, mainly of scholarly articles about childhood and attachment as well as other curriculum in the field. The three main goals of the system were to provide comfort to the child, develop a routine with the caregiver, and facilitate their exploration of the environment.

Once the initial goal of fostering attachment and facilitating a daily ritual among the caregiver and child had been established, I explored several different ways of accomplishing that goal. I decided on combining the comfort of my soft good model with a more abstract version of the caregiver and child model, forming a two-part form that represents how the child separates and comes back to the parent.

Physical ideation and modeling: wristband with notes of affirmation, soft good "egg" model, a two part parent and child inspired foam model, and a one part animal-themed foam model

Decorating

The felt sheets included with the kit has velcro backing that allows it to stick to the components temporarily in any design that the child desires. The caregiver and child can decorate the home component together, but the child is encouraged to decorate their component on their own as they begin being more independent. This decoration time is also an opportunity to build excitement and discuss starting school ahead of time so the child can prepare.

Examples of ways the child can decorate their soft good

Separating

When it is time to say goodbye, the two components can separate from one another, and the keychain can be hooked onto the child’s component so it can be put onto their backpack to take with them on their journey. The memories of time at home and the love of their primary caregiver are represented in this object that they have been able to make into their own, making sure that they never feel alone when transitioning to an unknown space with new people.

The two soft goods together in their stand (left) and when separated (right)
Soft good attached to the child's backpack with a keychain clip

At School

By being a part of the school curriculum, every child in the class has the opportunity for this experience and every caregiver has access to advice and information on how to navigate this transition. The general use of these objects not only normalizes the feelings of homesickness and anxiety that children often feel, but the customizability of these shared objects gives other students in the class a common ground and a platform for common interests based on how they decorate, a key factor in forming friendship at this stage.

If the child ever feels down or is struggling with being away, they can use the individual cubby spaces as a secluded area to take time for themselves and see the reminder of their caregiver’s love. The object serves to provide comfort to the child when needed while allowing them to learn independence on their own.

The small soft goods in the cubbies and in use

Reuniting

At the end of the day, the caregiver and child are able to reunite, and the components of the Buddy system come back together to their original form as well. By having the child take a piece of the system with them, they can be comforted knowing that they’ll be back together again by the end of the day, creating a consistent routine.