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concept: sensory play @ the museum
Goal: Design low-cost, high-value & easy-to-install exhibits, plus outreach strategies to bring Kidspace play to new audiences
Professor: Krystina Castella
Team: Catalina Johnson, Michelle Romero
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[what is it]
A sensory play system made up of permanent museum exhibits, pop-up cart activities for outreach events, and an at-home web experience for sensory play at home.
why this project?
Today young children (and their parents) have more opportunities for screen time than ever. This screen time can bring immense value, but sometimes kids (and parents) need to unplug & find the magic in our physical world. My team was inspired by the gigantic role our senses play in understanding the world around us. This inspiration is what we pass on to those who interact with the exhibit: magic distilled from our scientific, physical world.
why this project?
My team was inspired by the gigantic role our senses play in understanding the world around us. This inspiration is what we pass on to those who interact with the exhibit: magic distilled from our scientific, physical world.
the full system
In-museum exhibits, tabletop outreach activities and accessible web resources come together to grow Kidspace’s reach.
Design Details
  • full exhibit includes 3 “sight” walls
  • wall placement creates immersive environment
  • each wall consists of frame + curved acrylic panels
  • panels are easy to exchange / replace
  • panels may be smooth or textured for distortion
  • panel texture depends on heatforming mold used
  • spinners allow for interactivity & color mixing
Learning Frameworks
cognitive | mixing, naming colors
cognitive | asking questions about foreign materials
physical | running between frame structures
physical | manipulating spinners to mix colors
social & emotional | peek-a-boo with parent
social & emotional | shared space with peers
Design Details
  • full exhibit includes 3 “sound” walls
  • option to distinguish walls by object material
  • found objects reminiscent of family home: familiar but new
  • mostly natural materials: metals, woods
  • objects interchangeable: easy / inexpensive to replace
  • gap between object & wall designed for ideal resonance
  • connect rod in order to attach spinning components
Learning Frameworks
cognitive | connecting material to sound
cognitive | cause & effect: impact to sound
physical | dancing to sounds
physical | manipulating sound tools
social & emotional | pretend play: sounds & objects
social & emotional | making sounds collaboratively
Design Details
  • full exhibit includes 3 “touch” fountains
  • size, shape & texture allows climbing
  • whole-body touch sensation
  • poured concrete: molds have various textures
  • water glides over sculptures; seamless sheen
  • uses low-flow water pump & recycling catch basin
Learning Frameworks
cognitive | cause & effect: touch to water movement
cognitive | relationship between materials & friction
physical | climbing on textured spheres
physical | balancing on textured spheres
social & emotional | pretend play: lava, alligator, etc
social & emotional | sharing space
Pop-Up Exhibit Activity
To translate the sound exhibit into a pop-up, we designed sound boards that kids could build themselves. Basically an analog mixer board. sound blocks range in materials, textures and thicknesses, allowing kids to mix and match while learning about how form effects sound.
Design Details
  • modular design: wooden frame, varied sound tiles
  • new sound tiles can be developed / added any time
  • reconfigurable for an open-ended play experience
  • not a traditional instrument: no wrong way to play
  • option for both flat & raised tiles: maximum variety
Pop-Up Exhibit Activity
To translate the touch exhibit into a pop-up, we designed textured boards with gestural patterns. Kids can feel the texture and then use common art supplies to transfer the texture to paper via rubbings. This transfer allows them to see how a 3D texture can become a 2D pattern.
Design Details
  • laser-cut patterns of various materials
  • art supplies to make rubbings
  • shows transition between 2D & 3D representation
  • textures gesture toward familiar (ex: zebra, fish)
  • textures lend themselves to pretend play / storytelling
  • pieces stack neatly for easy transport
Pop-Up Exhibit Activity
To translate the sight exhibit into a pop-up with new value, we swapped acrylic panels out for small film gels. We also designed a simple clear acrylic stand which allows kids to draw on paper while looking through film gels on the stand—making certain regions of their drawing disappear.
Design Details
  • clear acrylic stand for stacking / layering film gels
  • inexpensive film gels as loose parts
  • film gels can be held & carried to explore the space
  • film gels can be organized to create pictures / stories
explore inside the cart!
parental education
Many parents avoid immersive sensory play because it tends to be (quite frankly) annoying and messy! Our system includes signage to help parents understand that the value of sensory play to a growing child’s brain greatly outranks its annoyance factor. At the exhibit this takes the form of signage specific to each sensory component. In outreach this information would be printed and given to children / parents as a take-home sheet.
web / print
More in-depth information on the benefits of sensory play will also be available on the museum’s website. Here parents will also be able to browse ideas for at-home sensory play activities that they can do with their child / children.
One of the most exciting times during our research and prototyping was being able to observe the parent / child interactions that our exhibit prototypes facilitated. We saw higher levels of involvement than with many of the current exhibits. Children asked their parents questions about materials, and parents were given a platform to explain simple lessons, like how a spoon covered in yarn will make a softer sound than one left with metal exposed.
material exploration that led to sight exhibit concept (film gels)
codesign session in the museum's workshop, building "things that move"
watching parents and children interact together at the sound exhibit prototype
using cardboard to determine proper sizing for the outreach cart
whiteboard ideation for how Kidspace could bring the exhibit to production
final playtime & photoshoot with neighborhood children and our Sens:ation prototypes
& some final documentation
Manufacturing Book
Final Presentation
(Animated Keynote)
Presentation "Script"

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