“Let this change how you think and how you see the world. Because the world is our work. And so, may this tragedy tear down all our faulty assumptions and give us the courage of bold new ideas.” – Aisha S. Ahmad, assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto
These are deeply unsettling times for everybody, I am thankful and fortunate that we feel safe in our house and don’t need to worry about the next meal; we are in good health and most of all we have each other.
We can be flexible and adjust our working day to fit this new situation, even if that means working in the evening once the kids are in bed (as I am doing right now).
Unfortunately, many people will find these times overwhelmingly difficult because they don’t have these securities, and acknowledging this does put everything into perspective.
I realise I talk from a position of privilege, but I wanted to share my thoughts and insights into how this crisis can be turned into an opportunity and how we can look again at what is important from a family and toy design perspective.
Embracing the new normal
Working from home is nothing unusual for Pumpkin Projects, over the years we have combined the office and WFH very successfully. But having the children home all day and trying to figure out how to organise home-schooling and full-day work, while keeping some sort of sanity, is proving to be quite testing.
As I am writing, we have been self-isolating for nearly three weeks; we decided early on that social distancing was the responsible thing to do, especially knowing how quickly things went downhill back home in Italy.
Suddenly we have been burdened with the responsibility to not only care for but also educate and entertain our children in a confined space 24/7; everything we took for granted has to change quickly!
With two energetic boys, we thought a strict routine and organisation was the only option. As with countless other parents in the UK, we jumped into organising school-like schedules, connecting with social network groups for tips about home-schooling and families in lockdown, we made lists of daily extracurricular activities and, needless to say, joined Joe for PE lessons… We did all of this thinking it was the only possible way, safeguarding against chaos! But we then found ourselves ignoring it completely within a few days.
What we soon realised was that a combination of practical guidance (keeping routine with school work in the morning) but also trust, spontaneity and most importantly of all time together, was what the children, and us, needed.
It is only early days, but at present, we are incredibly surprised how well the children have adjusted to this madness; they are missing their friends and the usual freedom, but they are doing remarkably well. I am shocked! There has hardly been any arguments, homework has been done daily and without too many issues. We have had far fewer requests for screens than normal and as a whole, they have loads of positive energy. I wish I could say the same about my husband!
All this has made the whole situation much more bearable, and dare I say it, even enjoyable. We are still trying to find our feet and recognise things can change at any time but I find myself pondering; what is triggering this unusually good behaviour? What is making this surreal situation not as dramatic as we initially thought?
‘Mum, I am bored…’
More than ever we have allowed the children to get bored and find their way to use their creativity and new found time to be free to experiment and discover.
As parents, we all have a sense of duty to provide our children with the best we possibly can. But in this situation, what does that mean? Does it mean keeping them occupied, entertained and organised all the time? Maybe because of social pressure, parenting expectations or fear of missing out, we feel a responsibility to keep the children busy?
We are suddenly not rushing around. Children and parents all over the UK (and many other places around the world) are not concerned with the mad school run, nagging the children to put their shoes on, find their homework, rush out of the door and then onto work. We don’t have the pick-up, the afternoon clubs and weekend activities. We now have more time for each other, the children have time for themselves, time to get out of the usual routine and enjoy everything in a newly found creative way, at a slower pace.
This ‘forced’ time we are spending with each other as families, although fairly daunting to begin with, is probably the best opportunity we will ever have to allow life to slow down, reconnect with our children and think about what is important. We are now entitled to get bored and have to find new ways to entertain ourselves.
As a toy designer and inventor, I am very fortunate as this is a prime time for me to focus on even more research and ideation. The possibility of teaching, sharing moments, observing new forms of play and discovery is exciting. Taking part in different activities, getting down to kids’ level and enjoying play with no need to look at the clock is liberating and full of possibilities!
Spending time together in ways we may have thought improbable before is a once in a lifetime opportunity, not only to appreciate what we can teach each other but more so, what we can learn from each other. I found myself a little overwhelmed at the beginning, stressed about how we could get through this, but once I accepted the situation and went along with it, I was able to validate what I always believed children needed.
Not the latest trend or useless collectable, but time for free-play, imaginative play and the opportunity to make meaningful connections within the family through play. The children have become far less demanding; they are happier, their new found bonding has been incredible and the youngest is visibly less “challenging”.
What I have noticed during my research is an extraordinary effort to make this unprecedented time an opportunity to re-establish a connection through play, especially creative and educational play, and have fun together. Parents everywhere have been amazing, they have taken on these new, more involved roles with great zeal and commitment and are trying their very best. But how can we make this positive drive last?
If things are working fine for now, what about in another three weeks? What about three months? I am concerned about children experiencing anxiety and mental health issues due to the virus and isolation. I hope the enthusiasm to find positive ways to go through this challenging moment of our lives can continue as we move through the next few weeks and months.
I have always believed imaginative and free-play is one of the most significant contributors in child development and wellbeing; it has been at the core of my practice since the beginning. Through facilitating the development of essential skills to build resilience, learn about social skills, boost creativity, promote innovation and learn decision-making skills; children will grow up to be more positive, well-rounded adults.
More than ever we need well thought out toys, games and resources, but also we need to embrace “homemade” projects and experiences, to feed our creativity and to revive our outlook on what is important in our lives. But is our industry ready, or willing, for this to be the new focus?
Once we are out the other side there is no guarantee that everything will be back to ‘business as normal’. I hope the toy industry will have learned not only from the challenges we have had to experience and the difficulties that came our way, but also from the positive attitudes we have encountered around the opportunity to make toys that develop imagination and games that can build on family relationships and be played together.
I hope we will not have missed an opportunity to see what children truly need and take a chance on a more meaningful approach toward new product design.
Valeria Miglioli runs Pumpkin Projects and can be contacted at email@example.com
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