How kids use Design Thinking and Mind Mapping skills!

00 learn through games

Education is an admirable thing,
but it is well to remember from time to time
that nothing that is worth knowing,
can be taught

(Oscar Wilde)

These two approaches could be an interesting avenue for both special needs and mainstream education!

There is a lot said about Design Thinking (DT), there are some fundamental principles described by various experts, each one his or her own wording although the core remains the same!

Several other experts wrote about it as the replacement of the linear approach, others said they complete each other and bring better results for business solution from the creation to the implementation. Some were inspirational others were not, some did bring some added value through use cases, and many forgot alas…

The same happens with Mind Mapping (MM), a lot criticize the approach, some think it is not appropriate, or too hard to catch, the purist of linear processes think it is a loss of time. The many papers we can see on the Web, written by experts (always experts) are in fact a well described sort of user-guide of a given software in Mind Mapping!

So what DT and MM have to do with educational special needs? Honestly nothing! I would say nothing until you try it and come up with your own conclusions. And, the same, what has DT and MM have to do with young ones? Well the answer to that will depend too. For me it has everything to do! I was very lucky to have the opportunity to put in practice these two classes I attended on DT and MM in 2013.

These approaches do not require sophisticated equipment, nor new technologies or a PhD to start using these. All what comes around is a certain plus, but it is also possible to try and work with young ones with a few post-it’s a white board, sheets of paper, markers, and the little stationery sort of things!

So what has DT to do with kids, this time I would say with a smile: Everything! Let’s remember how fond people are about storytelling, even adults like it, DT is – as I understood the approach and came up with a easy to grab manner – storytelling, the 4 questions approach. I was really excited to put in practice this approach at work at that time, but soon it appeared to me, the way my colleagues were staring at me as if I was an alien form another solar system, obviously we weren’t there yet! I knew I had to keep my ideas and motivation for another occasion.

Such occasion did occur the same year (2014) during summer. My audience? Three little treasures of 10, 8 and 6 years old. One of the three been diagnosed with dyslexia (at that time I had no idea what it was about, what were the effects on the life of the person, what were the constrains for her to feel good about herself, and much more questions I had no answers for! All what I noted was her thinking approach that triggered a kind Deja-vu impression I got during DT and MM courses).

That is how the story started then, I share a few segments of our discussion, at least those I still remember:

  • Me: what is that we would like to do …? this triggered so many answers I had hard time noting them on a piece of paper,
  • Elder one: why are you writing these down?
  • Me: well when we will finish this step we will need to decide which idea we will choose and continue our activities
  • The youngest: Oh I find it boring! (Laughing all the four of us)
  • The middle one: No, I like that, he (me) is funny!
  • The elder, so you intend to make a list of things we will do? Yeah I like that!
  • Me: … (I wished I did tape these moments, what a lesson learned!)

The dialogue went on and on until we decided to produce a movie’s scenario, so artwork with basic elements: board, paper, glue, markers, etc. and a representation of the solar system with playing-dough, wood sticks and carton dishes.

In less than three hours, we were able to discuss (what is?), decide what to do (what if), apply what we decided (Does it work?) and prepare a lovely surprise for their mom (Does it wows?)

I do not say it was an easy thing, we had in the midst lots of snacks, juice, and “Ficellos Cheese Sticks”, but at the end of the “activity day” they were happy to have their own kits for crafting, ideas in mind and the wow “thing” they planned to surprise mom!

That is what DT consisted of, that is what some adults thought I was alien langue, young kids simply liked the idea, were engaged from start and built their own motivation throughout the process in full. I never brought a single time the words Design or Thinking!

Finally I guess it was clear to watch that, the kids took their own decisions and the ownership of their actions. Results were amazingly surprising even for the little guy who was the less keen on following his plan, but helped a lot in solving issues the other two were facing… so each did in fact contribute to their own planned activities and results!

I don’t think at this level we were far from the real educational process of defining either content, pedagogy or delivery. People talking to other people, and that was essentially the whole idea. As for rest – believe it or not – it came from within the small collectivity of young people. During the execution of the activities they also self-regulated themselves reminding themselves what they agreed upon and if necessary, they referred to me (very rapidly I was there but not as a team member, that was the purpose, my presence would simply show and open doors) asking the how to do a certain thing, the synergy they had gave them the means to use my presence as a sounding board yet keeping their own decisions and feeling glad to show me the results of their work.

In so many years in education training and mentoring, I never lived such an experiment. Finally these young kids were giving me the proof of what should real education be.

Mind Mapping, ah! Some call it a technique, others a skill, for many it is a piece of software and for the majority it is a certain fun but loss of time! Maybe, but in some cases this could be the most rewarding moment you could experiment with a kid who has special educational needs.

When I addressed the Mind Mapping approach, it came also within a story, and some soft easy to solve challenging questions, waving a pen a piece of paper and asking “who could show me how to…?” I presented no tools, no theories, not even the words of Mind Mapping, just simple words from their daily activities… It had to be amusing, challenging and engaging, my role was to initiate and ignite their abundant imagination, no need for more.

This time I reversed the approach, I made a statement, to be precise I asked them a question if they had any idea of how to make a movie? Their faces expressed various thoughts “Is he kidding us?” or “Is he serious? what’s with him asking such things?”  But quickly the elder said, “Oh you want us to write a story?”, me “Yes! would you?” The other two: “But what kind of story?” Me:” Any kind of story!”  That chit chat went on for a few minutes then I showed them a copy of a story board! Yes! A storyboard! and gave them each a copy, and proposed if they would rather draw a story instead of writing it! So from their smiles I knew we had a deal!

So I let them think about their scenario, and watched the middle one who was struggling, I assumed, with her thoughts, feeling, what I also assumed> somehow lost! So I sat closer and ask her if she had ideas but could not put them on the piece of paper, she waved with a smile and said it was the case. So I made her feel I really understood her  situation and suggested we work together on finding the way she would feel happy. Her smile guided my thoughts ad we went on building a sort of a map putting all her ideas, then I waved a red marker asking if she would want to connect the pieces together the way she thought would help her to make her scenario… It was the trigger she needed to share and express her “vision of things” drawing, linking all the pieces together and then finally she smiled and said “That’s the story I want to tell!” It was her picnic ride she had during the week-end with her mom and brother and sister! I could see from her face the pride and the satisfaction of having expressed her thoughts and ideas… I think I was the happier person in the world at that time. Having bee able to listen and never assume things. Just being available for the young one , listening to her and show her how she would find on her own the answer to express her own imagination! I never thought I could link with someone so naturally!

Back to our main subject: education! After living such amazing moments with the three young ones, I am convinced, that education is the same for everyone, for every learner, what changes is the manner and the approach, what experts would call the pedagogy!

I would ask myself, so in such cases what does really matter? Learning the way it is decided by some experts who decided such, or making sure no matter the avenue we take, the main concern is that knowledge is owned by the learner using his own strength and own ways that would make him of her feel they accomplished something of their own?

If every kid needs to learn math, grammar or history, what matters is math, grammar and history not what someone decisions on how people must learn, even forcing them to memorize by heart things they don’t understand, they will never want to use?

It doesn’t take too much to understand the real trouble with education and fix it: the need for people to talk to people!

Michel – December 13, 2014

 Image courtesy: Bluebonnet Schools (Blog)



2 thoughts on “How kids use Design Thinking and Mind Mapping skills!

  1. Lovely! Your story reminds me of two early childhood education philosophies I recently studied: Reggio Emilia and High Scope: Reggio Emilia places an emphasis on the development of relationships with other children, with family and other adults within the community and the world and takes place largely through projects with a strong emphasis on art and design. High Scope Program emphasizes that children learn best when they are active participants in their own learning process … children have a hand in everything from planning to doing to reviewing their own activities every day. So you are in very good company with your thoughts about education. less
    1m ago

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Debbie,
      thank you for your comment(s) 🙂
      They are really appreciated. Thank you also for the insight your bring about the philosophies, I am glad this paper did remind you about that.
      Education is an amazing world, if we let our minds and hearts talk to each other.


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