Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Designing a new backpack for children to explore Harcourt Arboretum - Corie Edwards

When I began my placement at Harcourt Arboretum about 4 months ago on my very first day Lynn, the Education Officer on site, gave me a task of thinking of something I could leave behind once my placement was over. Her suggestion was to add 1 or 2 new activities to the backpacks planned for next year. I quite liked the idea of something I designed being used when I was gone and therefore quickly took to this task to see what I could add to the backpacks. After loads of rummaging through boxes of supplies and reading through the backpack cards I came up with a couple activities I could add. However, I didn’t stop there. I kept thinking…

Now, this thinking happened when the Education Officer was away so I had a couple days to get all my thoughts on paper. And my goodness was it a lot of ideas that didn’t really connect yet. When Lynn returned I promptly showed her what I had been doing whilst she was away. It quickly became clear that my ideas were too much to add to a current backpack and the themes didn’t really fit. Therefore, she said if I could find the time between everything else I was doing on this placement I could design a new backpack that would run at the Arboretum next year. I was absolutely delighted and over the four months used any spare time at work to further develop my backpack.

The backpack that I designed is called Junior Arborist and it gives children activities to do with trees that are similar to what the arborists do on site. For instance, the arborists regularly measure the height of trees, but they do this by climbing to the top. We cannot have children trying to climb to the top of trees therefore the backpack describes to them how they can measure a trees height with just themselves and no equipment. 

measuring the height of a tree

 In total there are four activities in the backpack that can be done anywhere in the Arboretum with any trees:

·         Measuring a trees height
·         Collecting parts of a tree (off the ground) to create a piece of artwork on the grass
·         A mirror to look up into the trees and tell the others in the group what you see
·        How to read the Arboretum’s tree and plant labels, then using that diagram to find as many species as you can in 1 turn of the egg timer

Natural artwork created from collected pieces of tree

When the children have finished with the backpack they will hopefully know a great deal more about trees and their care. Therefore, when they return the backpack they receive an official Harcourt Arboretum Junior Arborist badge!

I don’t want this task to sound like it was easy. Designing a new backpack for a site I have been at for only a short time took loads of effort. I know the backpack I just described sounds put together, but that came from lots of honing down of ideas and many edited drafts. Just as a frame of reference my first idea was Arrrrr-boretum (pirate themed), then modifying a Dr Seuss rhyme (not possible without copyright permission), then spelling Arboretum with different tree varieties, and then finally creating my own rhyme about trees. II scrapped all of the ideas except my own rhyme.

It was from reading and editing the rhyme over and over that the idea of Junior Arborist came to being. The rhyme is about all the different kinds of trees on site and the arborists are the ones who look after them all, so why not combine them? Which then left the task of designing what the children could do that is similar to arborists. I came up with the activities by consulting with the arborist team to learn more about what their job entails. I also spent time watching them work on trees. Through this teamwork I started to form activities children could do and then would consulate with the team again to see if the activities I designed were true to their job.

Contents of backpack

I learned a great deal from designing a new backpack. Firstly, time management. I only had a small window each week or sometimes fortnightly to dedicate to this project. I had to use that time wisely to get the backpack finished before my placement ended. Secondly, designing a backpack is completely different than anything else I have designed here. Anything I designed for families or schools had structure through a trail or planned activities. With a backpack I had to let go of some of that structure. A backpack is meant for exploring the Arboretum, therefore there couldn’t be a set route or certain trees they should see and the activities had to be suitable for anywhere they ended up, whether that was 800 metres away from where they began or if they sat down under a near by tree for lunch. Lastly, appropriate instructions and activities for the age range that usually borrows backpacks at the Arboretum. I didn’t want each activity to have a long explanation but I still needed the activity to be understandable. Finding that balance came from feedback from Lynn and the arborist team and constant editing.

I feel extremely proud of what I have created and hope that children who use it next year will enjoy using the backpack.

If you would like to come to the Arboretum and use the Junior Arborist backpack it will be available from the ticket office from April to November 2015. They are free to borrow with entry.

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