In his thesis, Closer Kin: Building Stronger Family Environments by Design, Kevin Cook explores how children’s outcomes could be improved by strengthening family relationships. Kevin argues that families provide comfort, a nurturing environment, and a secure base from which we develop individual autonomy. However, in his research, he discovered how limited resources can compromise family health, and ultimately harm children’s cognitive and emotional development.

Throughout the year, Kevin worked with low-income families and talked to a number of subject matter experts including developmental psychologists, social workers, and family therapists. Through his research, he explored the unique struggles faced by low-income families, and created a suite of design proposals to address them. Kevin argues that for children facing adversity, products promoting positive socio-emotional validation in the home could make children more resilient, allow space for healthier development, and ultimately reduce future inequalities.


Roger

In his research, Kevin discovered that 30% of the American workforce operates on non-standard work schedules (anything but 9-5), and these schedules are most common among low-income single mothers. When parents work late, they aren’t able to monitor their children’s sleep schedules, and irregular sleep patterns contribute to later disparities in children’s health, school, and behavioral outcomes.

Roger is a bedtime storytelling platform designed for parents working irregular hours, that allows their kids to maintain a regular bedtime routine, even when they have to work late. Parents and other role models can use their phone to upload recordings of bedtime stories, and Roger will play them when it’s time for bed. For a child, hearing their parents’ voices makes them feel safe and gives them an incentive to go to bed on their own. 

Predictable routines provide children with the necessary stability that allows for growth and self-regulation. For parents, Roger provides peace of mind which relieves stress and increases self-efficacy. In turn, this combination leads to more positive engagement when they are home.

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Kare

In his research, Kevin learned that parenting deficits get passed down to generations. Some parents, although well-intentioned, don’t know how to provide adequate care for their children because they didn’t receive appropriate care themselves.

Kare is a video coaching service that aims to educate and reinforce developmentally supportive interactions between parents and their children. Parents can upload 5-minute video clips of themselves engaging in everyday activities with their children, and coaches comment on the actions the parents did well.

Today’s options for learning these parenting concepts are expensive, uncomfortable and inaccessible. Kare is a flexible, low cost, and private alternative.

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The Guardian Awards

The Guardian Awards was a public experience meant to provide parents with healthy feedback from their children. Kevin asked children in Morningside Park why their parents deserved a ‘best parent’ award. These answers were written onto paper cards and inserted into trophies. The children then presented the awards to their parents and explained to them why they won. 

This experience was designed to open a new lane of communication between parents and children. In a playful way, it provided families with a platform to open a discussion about their relationships that they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

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To learn more about Kevin Cook’s work, take a look at his projects in more detail on kevincook.co or contact him at kcook5@sva.edu.