bookmark_borderStory City

Story City

Story City with River

#StoryCity is an online collaborative craft project where a mosaic-like picture of a city comes together when families all over the world create the buildings and stories that make up the city.

The inspiration for the project came in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as children all over the world were suddenly confined to their homes. Through #StoryCity, children could play together by building a shared imagined world while staying socially-distanced at home.

The activity was used in several campaigns by the LEGO Foundation encouraging positive parent-child play during the COVID-19 lockdowns. It was also picked up and remixed by others including the Boys & Girls Club, Wonderful Idea Co., Makey Makey, Strawbees, PlayGround Camp, LEGO Virtual Play Day, and others.


Three days into the COVID-19 lockdown I was discussing ideas with colleagues for how to promote creative play to parents stuck at home. The first idea I landed on was a broad concept; a hashtag that would facilitate parents to document and share their children’s creative work as it developed – with the aim of illustrating (to parents) how the evolving goals of their children’s projects can lead to meaningful learning experiences. In short, to promote the tinkering approach to learning as apposed to the planning approach1. This idea never made it past the concept phase, but it did, appropriately, evolve into something else: #StoryCity.

This tweet got a pretty positive response, so I wrote a post on the LEGO Foundation blog to promote the project and guide parents in facilitating the activity as a child-directed way to play together. Here’s an excerpt:

“…You know your kids better than anyone, but consider your level of involvement in directing the play. The more your kids take ownership of the project, the more they’ll get out of the experience of building it. That said, your kids might need a higher level of guidance to get started….”

After a few days, the #StoryCity hashtag started filling up with posts from all over the world. But the hashtag search function on Twitter wasn’t the ideal user interface, so I teamed up with the Playful Learning Lab and together we made the website StoryCity.Land. The new website’s aim was to improve readability, collect content from more sources, and host educator guides. As of jan 2021 the Playful Learning Lab still maintains the site.

Here are some of my favorite stories from #StoryCity


1 Tinkering vs. planning – see excerpt from Designing for Tinkerability by Mitch Resnick & Eric Rosenbaum

Many people think of tinkering in opposition to planning—and they often view planning as an inherently superior approach. Planning seems more organized, more direct, more efficient. Planners survey a situation, identify problems and needs, develop a clear plan, then execute it. Do it once and do it right. What could be better than that?

Resnick, M., & Rosenbaum, E. (2013). Designing for Tinkerability. In M. Honey & D.E. Hunter (Eds.) Design, make, play pp. 164

I’m sometimes a better talker than I am a writer, so ask me about this in person and I’ll be very happy to expand on what’s written here.

bookmark_borderParque de Farrapos

Parque de Farrapos was a play festival held in 3 cities in the state of Espirito Santo, Brazil, during the summer holidays in February, 2020.

I traveled to Espirito Santo one month before the festival to train the design team and the facilitators that would bring the festival to life. The training program included one day of play and reflection with the full team, one day of play, discussion, and co-design with local educators for the design team, and several further days of sparring with the design team.

Here you can see a Trello board with documentation of the first day of workshops. 1

The project was a collaboration between Purpose and the LEGO Foundation. The broader aim of this partnership in Brazil was to lift parent perceptions of the importance of play in their children’s development.

Over 2,000 children, parents, teachers, and NGOs came to play at the park, taking part in activities designed to engage kids and their parents in learning through play. As well as lots of attention from the general public, local municipalities and decision-makers came out to support (and play!) in the park.

Purpose, 14 feb 2020


1 I was semi-regularly discussing workshop design with Yusuf Ahmad at that time for his project Tools that Lower the Floors, Widen the Walls, and Raise the Ceilings for Designing Creative Learning Experiences. The Trello board was made as a kind of remixable workshop plan that could be replicated (and edited) by other educators.

I’m a better talker than I am a writer, so ask me about this and I’ll be very happy to expand on what’s written here.

bookmark_borderSunlight Play

Sunlight Play is set of tools for play based exploration of light, shadow, color, movement, scale, and story telling. The main tool is a fully articulable point light source powered by a rechargeable battery with a solar panel embedded in the base. Along with the light, Sunlight Play comes with articulable mirrors, and a range of materials that cast interesting shadows, bend light, and make colored shadows.

The set of tools and materials was designed for settings where electrical infrastructure is not prioritized for child’s play or missing entirely, specifically UNICEF’s refugee learning centers and the BRAC play labs. Sunlight Play facilitates explorative play with no wrong answers. It positions light as material with which to be creative, situating the child as a competent user of the medium and developing creative confidence.

The prototypes were made using the little sun lamps designed by Olafur Eliasson.

Sunlight Play builds on heavily the Tinkering Studio and Loris Malaguzzi Center in Reggio Emilia‘s work on light and shadow play.

Sunlight Play was developed over the course of several months in the fall of 2019 and winter 2020. Before the tools could be pilot tested, the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the project, eventually being completely shelved when I left the LEGO Foundation in June of that year.
Pablo Pedrosa, then a masters student at Designschool Kolding, supported the project.


Sunlight Play light
Articulable mirrors
Sample materials



Kaleido-Mirrors is a simple tool that opens possibilities for creative exploration through tessellation. It is made of two small mirrors connected by a hinge. When placed on a surface, the mirrors create a kaleidoscopic effect that can be adjusted as the angle of the mirrors is made bigger or smaller.

I designed this handheld (businesscard sized) Kaleido-Mirror to enable active audience participation in talks on creativity. Each audience member receives a Kaleido-Mirror and a set of instructions to use the mirror. The instructions follow the Jay Silver closed started, open ended design principle for building creative confidence. 1 The first prompt is to multiply ones fingers using the mirror; the second prompt is to create a square using the back of ones cellphone; and the third prompt is to use two minutes inventing new ways to use the mirror to create new shapes and patterns.

This audience participation tool was inspired by The Duck activity used by LEGO Education.

Use in Workshops

I’ve also used Kaleido-Mirrors in a few workshops, pairing the tool with Turtle Art and Spirographs to deepen the possibilities for pattern exploration, and a temporary tattoo printer2 to make the explorations more meaningful.


My fascination with tinkerable kaleidoscopes began at the ECSITE conference makerspace in Copenhagen, 2019. Samar Kirresh from the Qattan Foundation had brought a small open-ended kaleido-mirror mounted on a rotating plate. This small installation invited people to draw a squiggle, place it on the plate, and rotate the plate to see the different shapes change in the mirror.

While preparing for a workshop, Samar and I started playing with the Turtle Art ipads – and mixing them with the kaleidoscope. This lead to a type of mimicry play, where a shape was made in one medium, then recreated in the other.

In the weeks that followed I continued to experiment with the kaleido-mirror, as an installation at the LEGO Idea Studio, as a workshop, eventually as a communication tool for presentations.

User Experience Study

A short piece of documentation interpreting the experience of a former colleague learning to use Turtle Art and exploring the possibilities afforded by the Kaleido-Mirror. This was created as an exercise in the subjective learning documentation methods developed in Reggio Emilia, as documented in Reggio Children / Project Zero book Making Learning Visible: Children as Individual and Group Learners.


1. Mitchell, R. Lifelong Kindergarten (2017) p. 82

2. Inspired by the Imaginary in Berlin and the Tinkering Studio in San Francisco

bookmark_borderPeer to Peer Play and Learning

I ran a program at the LEGO Foundation called Learning Learning Through Play Through Learning Through Play. The program was designed to give my colleagues an embodied sense of what learning through play feels like through experiences of play and interest-driven exploration, so that their work in program design, grant management, and policy advising cold be informed by those experiences of play.

The initiative started in the form of monthly Open Space sessions where colleagues were invited to host sessions on any topic they found interesting and relevant. In a workplace of highly professional and career focused people, spending work-time playing with shadows and circuitry could be difficult. I pushed this feeling, bringing colleagues mushroom hunting in the woods after one of them voiced an interest in mycology.

bookmark_borderSky Parade Tracks

Show the different iterations, link to Amos’s Instructable, show Klaus’s iterations, show the book that a library version ended up in. Show the videos on twitter of sky parade gondolas jumping from one string to another.

bookmark_borderOpen-ended Building Instructions

Open-Ended Building Instructions

LEGO Art Machines is a playful learning activity developed by the Tinkering Studio and the LEGO Idea Studio. Used in workshops and as a drop-in tinkering activity, Art Machines invites people to build a machine that draws a pattern.

The Tinkering Studio’s project page and the activity Instructable document the Art Machines activity really well. Check out those links to find out how to run the activity yourself.

LEGO Art Machines is a tinkering activity. That means it’s open-ended. It’s not a game that can be won; it is a playful context to explore. It’s closer to a sandbox than a Rubik’s cube.

A challenge to running this activity is the fragility of the connection points between LEGO pieces under strain from the machine’s movement. This issue was solved by giving users a “base model” rather than just the raw pieces for them to start from scratch. The base models affix the motor to the battery pack and give the machine one simple movement that each user can build on to.

In 2018 I made a building instruction booklet to offload the work of creating base models before a workshop onto the participants, who might also feel a greater sense of ownership of their machine having built it from the raw pieces. This project was an effort to combine the intuitive (and near-ubiquitous) LEGO building instructions with the open-ended pedagogical approach from LEGO Art Machines.

The book starts users off without any choice, just like a standard building instruction. After a few initial steps are completed and the motor is affixed to the battery, the booklet gives users three choices of new directions to go. That page includes photographs that show what type of pattern each base model will create.

The user picks a path, and the building instructions continue. When the basemodel is complete, the instructions show them how to tip the machine over so the pen meets the paper, and press the power button so it starts to move. The photographs show a few messy examples of what their art machine might look like when they’ve continued iterating – going beyond the instructions.

Supercut of LEGO Art Machines
Art Machines is on the “sandbox” side of the spectrum
One possibility becomes three possibilities
Builders are instructed to turn the machine on and tip it over so that it begins to draw. The photographs show what their machine might look look when they’ve continued building on their own.

bookmark_borderTinkering Toolbox

I was by no means the main driver behind this project – but I did work on it.

We made a short video about the product where I was the main spokesperson. I felt, and continue to feel, pretty terrible about this video. I will return to this post to express this more soon.

bookmark_borderAfrica Play Conference

Africa Play 2019 was a conference hosted by Unicef, the South African Department of Basic Education, and the LEGO Foundation. The conference gathered practitioners, administrators, and policymakers from across the African continent to put a tight focus on the need to prioritise play in childhood development.

I designed five playgrounds for the conference, each based on one of the LEGO Foundation’s Five Skills for Holistic Development. The conference attendees were able to construct deeper understandings of the five skills model having experienced them at the conference.