Young Inventor Challenge: Gina Manola on Getting Kids to Think about New Ideas

Young Inventor Challenge: Gina Manola on Getting Kids to Think about New Ideas

A couple weeks ago I kicked off my Young Inventor Challenge series with advice from Mike Hirtle who helps judge the competition.  You can read that HERE.  This week I’ve asked Gina Manola (pictured above) to give some tips on helping kids jump start their creativity (so we don’t see a zillion new Candy Lands or Monopolys in the competition!)  Gina has run children’s toy and game invention programs in the past and has worked to promote the Young Inventor Challenge which you can find out more about at it’s website:
Here’s what Gina had to say:
The most important things I try to communicate are:
  • YOU can design a toy or game 
  • Think beyond the path 
  • Come up with lots of ideas before settling in on one 
  • Make new connections
  • Pitch It!
To get these points across Gina has created some materials that help present to schools, libraries and other organizations to get kids thinking.
1. YIC 2012 Presentation (Click Title to Download PDF)
This pdf provides some toy/game trivia plus info about the YIC challenge. I use this when I’m presenting the program to a school, library or organization. It includes some toy and game trivia to show kids that game inventors come from all walks of life.

2.YIC Games Presentation (Click Title to Download PDF)
I show this pdf to give kids an overview of game types. It does include path games but it includes other types of games as well. It’s useful to give kids a quick overview of different game types and mechanics so they don’t automatically default to the path game.
3. Good Ideas Land Here
To communicate the importance of generating lots of ideas when you begin the toy/game inventing process, I put a red sheet of paper in the center of the floor that says “Good Ideas Land Here.”  I give all of the kids a handful of pennies and tell them that each penny represents an idea. I ask them all to toss up their ideas at the same time towards the square. Not all of the ideas will land on the square which is why you have to throw out LOTS of ideas. I also point out to them how their ideas (pennies) will land next to other people’s ideas and in so doing will create new and unexpected associations that can generate even more ideas & potential collaborations with other inventors.

4. Rolling Hairball Poster (Click Title to Download PDF of Poster)

I use this poster to to demonstrate how a toy/game concepts can come from everyday life. (As well as show how you can present your concept for the fair). I tell the story about the time my cat dragged a ball of yarn up to my room and left it for me to find when I woke up. I associated the ball of yarn with the cat which made me think of a hairballs. Then I imagined the hairball had a personality and could engage in play. I gave it a face and attributes and voila—The Incredible Rolling Hairball was created! I encourage kids to combine objects, words, textures and materials visually and see what kinds of combinations they come up with.

5. Play StoryPlay (by Briarpatch)
My game StoryPlay is also another avenue that helps kids make connections between new things. One of the games in StoryPlay has players randomly selecting 3 tiles and then arranging them in any order they want and then drawing what that object/person/place/thing might look like. Because you never know what words/images you are going to get, it breaks you out of your conventional thought patterns and leads you to create NEW combinations that can lead to a new toy/game concept.
6. Pitch It!
Once the kids have settled on an idea, I ask them to pitch it to me like they were doing a commercial. Kids understand how commercials work and they think it’s funny to imitate them. They get that you need a catchy name and cool features that will hook you into the concept. By doing this exercise, it helps them focus in on what  the most interesting features of their game are and that is what they will need to communicate through their presentation.

Gina Manola is an inventor and the owner of CALICO, an award-winning design studio located in Urbana, IL. Gina has developed successful products working with the leading children’s book illustrators, museums and licensed brands in the world. Her games are Parent’s Choice Award and Oppenheim Toy Portfolios Best Toy Award winners. Her work has been honored by “100 Best Children’s Products” and “10 Best Socially Responsible Products.” In 2009, she published “Notable Novelists™”celebrating important 20th century authors and is launching a new creative play line playPlay™ in stores this summer.  Gina received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a member of Women in Toys and actively involved in promoting the Young Inventor Challenge program by working with kids to help them bring their own toy or game concepts to life.