By Stephanie Guyotte
On a crisp Saturday morning - a group of 21 elementary school-aged youth gathered at the Innovation Hub Haverhill to tap into their imaginations and evolve into budding game designers.
The event was the first Family Game Design Day, hosted by the Innovation Hub Haverhill in collaboration with game design industry veteran Emily Treat Czar of Haverhill.
This program, held early December, invited students in grades three through six, and parents, to learn about the concepts of game making – with no technology needed.
Back in early 2020, the iHub partnered with Czar for a high school course on game design. After a long delay due to the pandemic, the iHub and Czar collaborated again, this time with a youth-centric program.
“We were excited to try out this program with a younger audience and their parents,” said iHub Associate Director Stephanie Guyotte, whose own 8-year-old son participated. “When the kids walked in, they didn’t know what to expect, but they walked out energized and thrilled to see what they built using their own creativity and bunch of playful exercises and objects. My son couldn’t wait to play his game at home with the rest of our family.”
The hands-on workshop taught the students concepts of game making. Using stickers, dice, marbles, blocks, colored paper and more the students built game boards, created characters and settings, and then learned how to test out their game. The result was a fun-filled morning with projects to take and play at home. Photos from the event can be found in the iHub's Facebook gallery.
“Students with all types of interests and backgrounds can find a common ground in making and playing their games," said program facilitator Czar. "Introducing students to game making gives them a unique outlet for self expression and a pathway into STEM careers in a low-risk environment. They may not know it, but we are creating accessible inroads for our future innovators.”
The Innovation Hub collaborated with the Haverhill Boys and Girls Club and the Haverhill YMCA to invite students to participate. Innovation Hub Members and their children were also invited.
UMass Lowell DifferenceMaker co-op students Yeaharne Hout, Maddie Gear and Jake Abramowitz provided support and assistance throughout the day, working with the kids, and helping to test play their games.
"Emily and the UMass Lowell students were excellent. They provided the kids a structure in how to think about game design and basic concepts underlying programming — and made it playful and approachable for the kids of different ages in the room," said Alexandra Chandler, a Haverhill resident and an iHub member.
"You could also see how much pent-up energy the kids had not just to create but to share their creations with other kids in person and iterate off one another's ideas. I'm grateful to iHub for providing the space for that to happen."
Chandler’s son, William, age 9, added: "It was really fun to socialize with my friends about different things we designed and built. It just makes me happy!"