For this project I wanted to figure out a way to get kids, and their parents, to think and act differently about personal hygiene, their health, germs, other microorganisms, and how they interact with the world around them.
A little bit of personal history to set us off on the right path. This project builds upon a group project I had completed earlier this year. Probiotic Peter: The Dust Bunny. This project was designed for parents to acclimatize their infant-toddler aged child to a healthy level of allergens and general contaminants that modern cleaning and health practices due away with. It was a sort of “S.I.Y.” (stuff it yourself) stuffed bunny rabbit for children to have when they’re growing up. Basically parents would stuff the bunny themselves with refuse from around their home and general vicinity to then give to the child. This was a theoretical approach at how we, as a culture, might begin to change our behaviours in order to combat the rapidly rising levels of auto immune system disorders as well as allergies that occur when growing up.
Overuse of antibiotics
One major factor in this whole story is currently society's obsession and rampant overuse of antibiotic medication. This mass level of misuse and over prescription has lead to the evolution of killer “superbugs” that are now virtually impossible to reliably kill. These “superbugs” pose a huge risk to humanity due to our dwindling methods to fight them, compiled with our already diminishing personal health that deteriorates our immune systems natural abilities.
Too much cleaning products
Another factor in this worst case scenario we’ve caused for ourselves is the cleaning products we use, and how they’re not actually helpful. In fact, many of these types of products are downright harmful. antibacterial/antimicrobial hand soaps and hand sanitizes are commonplace in the modern home, but they don’t need to be, and really shouldn’t be. The overuse of these types of products weakens our personal immune systems by killing off our own helpful bacteria and other microorganisms in our complex personal microbiome. On top of that, it also aids in the evolution of superbugs like MRSA that are highly resistant to antibiotics.
Trying to get kids outside
The last factor that I want to try and deal with in my project is normal exposure to a diverse range of microorganisms that help bolster our immune system and make us naturally resistant to illness. One way to ensure exposure to a wide range of microorganisms is to simply go outside and play in the dirt, play with other people, physical contact with the real (unsanitized) world.
For this specific project I want to design a toy kit that children can use as a source of inspiration and joy to find, now unconventional, ways of interacting with the natural world, while at the same time boosting their own immune system and learning some science along the way.
To help get kids invested and enjoying this kit I’ve styled it around a common “police detective” theme and tried to incorporate some fun and related puns to keep the users entertained. Laughter might not ALWAYS be the best remedy, but it certainly can’t hurt. And it’s definitely a good indicator of a child’s level of enjoyment.
Some of the fun activities I’ve thought up for this toy kit are the “gumshoe” evidence gathering method, where the child takes on the roll of a police “detective” to gather evidence by using a double sided adhesive on their shoes to collect samples while they go about their usual play. “Dusting” for fingerprints is a common police theme, but I hope kids will get a kick out of learning how to do it with actual dust they collect themselves. Another common motif I played around with in this kit was the idea of a “Most Wanted” list. By categorizing some common bacteria and giving the kids a method to collect, culture, and study, these bacteria it really brings a fun level of gamification to some simple science. Gotta catch em all!
Easy to approach kits
For this kit to be successful the information and instructions will have to be at the level of a child young enough to actually enjoy this sort of play, but not quite so young as they would need lots of parental help and supervision. I want this to be very approachable and easy to pick up and use for a child who has perhaps just entered grade school and might have started to learn some basic science.The age range for this kit is, in my mind, for children 5-10 years old, with some occasional help from their parents with the bigger words.
For this product to be successful, for it even to get into the hands of a child, it has to first pass through the hands of their parents. Parents are most often the gatekeeper of what their children get access too and what they are allowed to interact with. For this product to be successful I will need to supply enough actual hard science to convince a parent about the value of this kit as well as how factually valid this approach is in regards to their child's health.
Step 1: Parts
All the bits and pieces!
In this kit I have included:
- A carrying case
- A Microscope
- A “Detective” police badge
- Various evidence collection tools
- A black light flashlight
- UV goggles
- Petri dishes
- Nutrient agar
- Rubber gloves
- And doubled sided “gumshoe” adhesive.
Step 2: Information
For the information I’ve chosen to include in this child's toy kits I have elected to include:
Microscope closeups of common types of microorganisms that a child might be able to find or grow in their petri dish
Information on the various types of microorganisms and how to tell them apart
Factual information about the potential dangers of the overuse of antibiotics
Instructions on how to use the various toys and games included within the kit itself
And information on some of the more common helpful bacteria that are actually sought after for health reasons.
Step 3: Fun and Games
Everyone likes some simple games and good fun.
In this kit I’ve made some starter word searches I’ve also included some fun coloring activities that also help kids learn about microorganisms.
This more simple types of games and play help keep the kit fun and approachable when the user doesn't want to do science related activities, or when they want to do something more relaxed.
Step 4: Assembly
Assembling all these parts in a method that is conducive to toy kits and safe to travel with was also a fun challenge.
To accomplish these technical production tasks I utilized:
- CNC and CAD technology
- Vacuum forming
- 3d Scanning
- as well as some good old fashion elbow grease! (NLGI 6 of course!)
To get the 3d scanned microscope I used a scanner from https://structure.io/ which attaches to an iPad. While the resolution isn't the greatest (especially for objects that have a chrome surface...) it was a good enough copy for my purposes.
The 3d printed insert was graciously made by my WONDERFUL TEACHER WHO IS GENEROUS WITH HIS GRADES using his gigabot printer. It was the largest print I've ever held in my hands!
Sadly the CNC milled foam cutouts were not completed in time due to the tool limitation of it only being a 3 axis mill meant primarily for cutting our profiles from flat stock. I did learn a lot about the different file types and methodologies for using different CNC tools. If I were to do this over again I would simplify my cutout and just use normal pocket cutouts rather than overly complex form fitting 3d geometry.
While I did not make the final Vacuum formed insert for the case (it came with the microscope kit) I had planned on making my own vacuum formed part, but alas the school had run completely out of thermoplastic sheets because they did not want to move them to the new campus!
Step 5: Looking Forwards
No project is ever perfect, but all projects must come to an end at some point (unless your school is REALLY relaxed with their late work policy)
If I were to improve this project I think one major factor to improve would be the graphics and overall layouts. The dissemination of information, especially to children, is so very tied to their ability to understand what they're looking at and comprehend the words being used. With better graphic design and communication design I think a product like this would have a real chance to make a meaningful impact in the lives of the people who use it.
I would also like to have the opportunity to have a better packaging solution for the project, while a reused Dewalt tool box certainly did the job, it perhaps was not the ideal packing and caused some problems for the internal packaging. I would also use an open cell foam and just have it laser cut rather than going through all the time and heartache dealing with half a dozen different types of CAD and CAM just to get a simple form fitting insert into a box.
One final aspect of this project which should certainly be looked at is the science. I have not stepped into a science class in over 15 years and my knowledge is rusty AT BEST. Some of the things I suggest in this theoretical kit might in fact be deadly! If someone with some real know-how was able to go over this project and tweak the information and games to ensure they are factually correct, safe, and age appropriate, then this might have some real legs.