Sophie Carrillo’s thesis Unauthorized Play: Design Provocations for Children in Crisis is a year-long exploration on the potential benefits of implementing more play into children’s lives, particularly for children who are growing up in adverse environments. She envisioned several design interventions within the play spectrum, ranging from entirely child-led ones, which are often perceived as risky because kids are given complete agency, to ones directed by schools and parents, which are easier to implement. Sophie spoke with a variety of experts in the field, from psychologists, social workers, and pediatricians, to designers, playworkers, researchers, and educators.
According to Sophie, “Play could become a coping mechanism for kids to relive and understand impactful situations safely, helping them deal with traumatic events and allowing them to strategize and envision towards better outcomes.” From her research and conversations, two key ingredients of play emerged: risk and agency. This insight launched her into an exploration of what makes kids feel empowered and fearless.
Mighty Kids Workshop
Sophie hosted a workshop to understand what makes kids feel powerful and embrace risk, inviting 5 participants to create a superhero that could help them overcome conflict. The kids were prompted to imagine a fearless representation of themselves—a superhero who had the power they lacked to change their environment. After sharing their creations, the kids created a story for their heroes to help them solve any problem. The workshop revealed that kids feel more inclined to embrace risk when they feel in charge of a situation, even if the power they have remains the same.
Revolt is a speculative project designed to prompt conversations around the importance of play, especially for children in adverse environments: uprooted children who are about to be confronted by new authority figures, whether facing immigration officers, or going into the foster system, about to meet a social worker. The pendant toy would allow children to “turn on” their superpower and confront new power dynamics by metaphorically reversing authority roles. “One minute they are a kid with little agency over their future but the next one they flip reality and become the authority figure,” Sophie explains. “Revolt is a discursive project, as no child could wear this pendant without it getting taken away.”
Though Revolt doesn’t actually change the child’s situation, this small interaction helps children feel more in control on an emotional level, by playing out the situation differently and coping through roleplay.
Blip - Time out for parents
Blip is a smart device that allows kids to give time outs to their parents, as a way to communicate discomfort. Blip connects to every smart device in your house; whenever the kid presses the device, Blip turns off every smart device in the house - taking away their parents’ toys. When they release the pressure, the devices turn back on, and the time-out is over.
Reckless is a service that gets parents off the hook for not being perfect—encouraging them to celebrate and find joy in minor parenting mishaps. The service works as a monthly subscription where families get a different storybook and app. Every week, the app sends a check-in notification for parents to input what they thought was their parenting mishap during the week. The app then offers suggestions on how to take the misbehavior further, and embrace "reckless behavior.” Though the name is Reckless, the service remains responsible by including a comprehensive welcome package that helps parents get familiarized with what misbehaving looks like within reasonable boundaries and limits.
Gioca Daily, play set
To foster more playtime and give parents inspiration to make the most out of the limited time they have with their kids, Sophie designed Gioca Daily, a parent-kid play set that helps incorporate play opportunities into a family’s daily routine. The play set offers different game ideas, educational materials, and user-created content from other parents. Schools will provide parents with a kit each month; at the end of the month, parents trade kits with other parents, and share what worked for them and what didn't.
Cue - Sensoy toy
Cue is a therapeutic toy for children who have difficulty verbally expressing when they are feeling overwhelmed. For kids on the autism spectrum, kids with sensory sensitivities, or kids with learning disabilities, verbally communication their discomfort is almost impossible. Cue helps kids begin the process of calming themselves down, by pressing on the soft foam material; this activates the shell to cover the toy, visually signaling to parents that their child is in need of help.
To learn more about Sophie Carrillo’s work, take a look at her projects in closer detail at sophiecarrillo.com.