Connecting Kids: Project in a Box
‘Connecting Kids’ is a unique project in the higher education sector, both in terms of scale and level of engagement with its community, and was driven by a local need after a network of stakeholders came together to ask schools how they could help during the pandemic. Each step of the project was taken hand in hand with teachers and community partners to ensure equal ownership of the solutions, ensuring this rapid response to an urgent need is also a long term, sustainable investment for the future. The project has three main areas of focus; internet and technology provision for secondary school children, learning resources for primary school children and mentoring support across both secondary and primary schools.
Project in a Box
The closure of schools throughout the county due to COVID-19 raised concerns within local government around the potential negative impact on young people’s education, health and wellbeing. Lancaster and Morecambe has many existing complex obstacles to the social mobility of young people in the district, and COVID-19 has the potential to further increase the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ to such an extent the gap could become irreparable.
The Public Sector and Community research cluster, part of the Beyond Imagination E3 funded project at ImaginationLancaster worked with colleagues in Linguistics and the Lancaster University Student’s Union to support primary school children in their creation of ‘Project in a Box’. Along with pens, colouring pencils and other basic stationary and household items the boxes contained a series of ‘prompt posters’ created by design researchers in ImaginationLancaster and based on suggestions from academics across Lancaster University. The ‘prompt posters’ aimed to excite, engage and connect with young children isolated at home – children could record and then share their activities with their teachers, peers and caregivers in a creative exchange.
Outcomes and Impact
505 ‘Projects in a Box’ were delivered to primary pupils across Lancaster and Morecambe and were extremely well received by the schools and children. The project is attracting a great deal of attention as a leading example of using codesign in a significant engagement project. The National Festival of Making and Lancaster (North Lancs) Cultural Education Partnership have both used Project in a Box as inspiration for recent similar activities. The co-design process was disseminated in the Festival of Social Sciences where researchers from Imagination conducted an online workshop exploring how to co-design engaging prompts to children using objects found at home.
While it is too early to evidence the impact the project has had on the educational progression, social mobility and health of the recipients, it is true that the project has contributed to ensuring the most vulnerable young people in Lancaster and Morecambe did not fall further behind their peers as a consequence of COVID-19.
Project in a Box is continuing in 2021. The Project in a Box team aspire to co-design the contents of future boxes in different contexts with teachers and students, to include online / hands-on workshops to increase creativity and playfulness of the process and the boxes, while also undertaking research into how the boxes and their impact evolve in this innovative, collaborative, interdisciplinary project. These boxes will include additional and refined materials and activity prompts based on research currently being conducted by ImaginationLancaster and academic colleagues in the Linguistics Department at Lancaster University.
Academics in ImaginationLancaster and Linguistics at Lancaster University are conducting interviews and writing papers on the success of ‘Project in a Box’; the emerging feedback from the interviews with children and teachers is being fed immediately into the design of the next round of boxes. Attendance and pupil progress of children who received a box will be measured, together with interviews with teachers to ascertain the significance of the project to these figures.
“There has been a wonderful response to the boxes from both children and parents. It has really sparked their interest, as well as making them feel valued. I have treasured the interactions! These are mainly children and families that I have had little or even no personal contact with - you can see how they have felt a bit lost and have now been given a special opportunity. All pass on their thanks. Children were keen to get home and get creating."