Our group made a rocking chair that is designed to help children ages 3-6 with motor skill development. It is a multifunctional piece that will not only be a chair but a play toy as well.
Our goal was to make furniture for the Montessori school that was multi-funcational and also able to cater to different age groups. All the furniture needed to be made directly for children and the children needed to be able to move the furniture by themselves.
This project is important because a child should learn both mentally and physically. When learning about the Montessori teaching method, we saw a lot about movement. The children were encouraged to get up, play, and travel around the classroom. We also saw a lot about self-awareness. Our design’s rocking motion is recreational, but it also can help a child be aware of their body. As the child plays on the chair, they are learning to balance and navigate their surroundings.
The Montessori Method of education, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, is a child-centered educational approach. The method views a child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. Additionally, Montessori Method believes in multiage groupings, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and guided choice of work activity. Furthermore, the learning materials are meticulously arranged and available for use in an aesthetically pleasing and natural looking environment.
We took all this into account when designing our desk set. Consequently, we immediately developed guiding principles that we knew that were essential for our project. We wanted our designs to incorporate adaptability, functionality, and durability. In addition to this, we wanted our product to be space efficient.
We set out to accomplish our goal of space efficiency by means of folding. We wanted our object to be capable of folding either in half or in some direction to transform from a storable object to a usable object. We began with a single sheet that would be able to unfold into a chair. Additionally, the legs of the chair would be able to fold to achieve some hieght adaptability and allow for a broader range of people to be comfortable in our chair. However, we found this idea to require too much of the user, as well as to be uncomfortable.
This lead to another foldable chair design, however, instead of a single piece of wood it was comprised of four square blocks. We quickly determined that this design had an unnecessary block of wood. Subsequently we removed one of the squares, leaving three squares to unfold into a chair. However this made our chair unsteady. To fix this problem we created leg support that could fold out of the backrest and provide stability. By doing this, it became necessary to extend the length of the backrest; the support had to be longer than the other blocks to reach the ground and remain durable. After, we began testing dimensions that would be comfortable for a young child. Once accomplished, we focused on finding a way to lock our chair in place while allowing it to continue to fold. We concluded that folding leg support hinges would work. We then created a 3-d model which we printed and tested on our half scale chair model. It worked well. After having a working half-scale model, we cnc routed a full scale model and used metal hinges in lieu of 3-d printed ones.
Concurrent to the chair designing process, we also worked on the design of the table. The table complements the chairs by allowing the chairs to be placed inside of the table, allowing for more space. Throughout the design process we new we need a compartment to house the chairs. Our first design had the desk split in half with the two halves separating with an opening placed inside the middle of the desk. Yet with much thought we decided to move away from that idea because of how hard it would be to separate the two sides. We concluded that the spaces designated for the chairs was not only the most user friendly design, but it also served as extra storage space when not being taken up by the chair.
Our goal was to make a design that fit with the goals and guidelines of the Montessori school system. We needed to design a piece of furniture that would encompass their ideals. Our group decided that we wanted to help the students to learn about their motor skills. The balance aspect of our design would help the students to be able to learn how to use their bodies to balance, but in a safe way. Another goal we had was that we wanted our design to have dual functions. The Montessori school likes furniture that is able to be easily moved around the classroom. Also, the students need to be able to move or change the furniture as need be, without the help of the teacher. Lastly, we decided that we wanted to aim our design towards the younger age group. We decided on the 3 to 6 year olds because those are the students who need to learn about their motor skills.
Once figuring out our guiding principles we started looking at precedents. We knew we wanted to have an aspect of balance incorporated so we started looking at a "u" like shape. There were a few products out that are similar to what we were thinking, but nothing exactly like we had in mind. These precedents gave us a nice starting point and then we started to design our own ideas.
Our first idea was just a simple half-circle curve. We thought its ergonomic shape would benefit the design, and the rocking motion could help develop motor skills. After the cardboard version of this, we made one with the laser cutter but stacking semi circles one on top of the other. This prototype looked better and was sturdier, but the curve was too sharp and we immediately recognized that it would be extremely uncomfortable.
Our next two prototypes were similar to each other. Their purpose was to decrease the weight of the chair so a small child could handle it easily. We changed the design to have ribs and spaces so there was significantly less material. One design had vertical ribs and one had horizontal ribs. Eventually we decided to choose the ribs going the long way for comfort.
Our next few prototypes played with the shape of the chair. They were oriented toward helping young children learn about balance and movement, but they didn't balance and were not practical.
Finally we decided to focus on the nesting aspect of it. We changed the inside curve of the chair to be the same as the outside curve, allowing multiple chairs to fit inside each other. This turned out to be our final design. We created a half scale model out of cardboard, we did this so that we made sure that all of our measurements were correct before be cut it out of wood.
On the last day we created our full scale model. Ideally there would be a cushion on top, which we represented with a piece of black fabric. The cushion will make the chair more comfortable and make it safe for children to play, so that they will not get their hands stuck.
Our design prompt was to create and produce a centerpiece for a Montessori school that would serve as a multi-purpose classroom item. We hoped that what we devised could be a chair, a table, an art surface, and a tunnel, for the children to utilize for their own enjoyment. We first brainstormed a chair, table, and easel-hybrid item that could double as a crawl space. We then realized that we wanted to incorporate a more organic shape into our design, since that is a major value of Montessori education.
Our first iteration was a wooden table that folded up in order to form an easel. We liked that this initial design was so simple, yet versatile and multi-functional; however, we thought that the shape should resemble better something from the natural world. To produce the first iteration, we designed all the pieces of the table on Rhino and laser-cut them. Then, we cut out dowels in order to simulate the legs of the table. We also used hinges from the shop to create the fold-up easel part of this iteration.
For our second iteration, we took many layers of cardboard and produced a vertical box. Then, we hand-carved an organic shape, one resembling our sketches. While this iteration was closer to our desired natural shape than the previous iteration, the cardboard was uneven and inexact. On a life-size model, these factors could cause great discomfort for a child using it. Also, the tunnel in this second iteration was not as pronounced as we wanted it to be in order to allow the children at the Montessori school to fully enjoy the various aspects of our special piece of furniture.
Our third iteration was essentially the cardboard model of the second iteration, after being translated into the Rhino autocad laser-cutting software. This model did not exactly reflect the design we had in mind, because the edges of the prototype were uneven on the top, making it difficult for a child to sit on a full scale model of our design, as we had worried would be the case.
The fourth 3D printed iteration is a better representation of the design that we had hoped for because we were able to maintain the organic shape that we desired, while also making the seating area flat and comfortable for a child. Despite our accomplishments, the fourth iteration was not an ideal design because it would not stand up properly, alerting us to balance issues that needed to be corrected in our next iteration.
The fifth iteration of our design improved the balance issues that were present in the previous iteration. In addition to correcting this stability issue, the fifth iteration also featured an improved seating area that would better conform to a child's body shape. In addition, this improved design featured a more pronounced tunnel for the children at the Montessori school in which to play.
Having finalized our design aspects in the fifth iteration, we decided to design a final one-fourth scaled-down wooden model of our design, using the Rhino software, and lasercut it.
We lasercut two long pieces that would run through the length of the piece, and many cross-section pieces to mimic the assembly on a life-sized product. We were inspired by other designs that had a similar cut as well, because this style would further add to the natural shape of our design. Utilizing all of our ideal design aspects, the final scaled model was successful and, if we had had more time to mill a full scale model, the full scale model would have functioned properly.
Our tidal wave bench is inspired by many values of a Montessori classroom including but not limited to: organic/naturalness, multi-functionality, beauty, educational intent, and exploration. This bench is ideal for many uses such as sitting on, crawling under, and sliding down. We hope that this piece will aid in a child's growth as she or he decides how to use the piece. Classrooms consisting of varying ages could find this piece functional: younger children would seek amusement from the tunnel and sliding aspects, while older kids might find more use in the singular seat on one side for concentrated work, or on the bench on the other side to engage with friends. In any classroom, this large piece will define the space, without being overbearing, as it is constructed out of natural and beautiful wood, and would blend with the vibe of the room. It is our hope that this multi-purpose piece is perfect a Montessori class.
We designed a dynamic storage system that serves as a learning tool to engage a child's motor skills and awareness in a playful way. The rotating capability of the shelf promotes independence in storing, organizing and retreiving their materials: no shelf is inaccessible. It also allows the child's mind to make connections between the gears and the pulley system, realizing one needs the other to move.
The very first idea we had was more "windmill" shaped, as opposed to a verticle tank tread. The idea didn't last very long at all, because we found that a shelf of that type would take up far too much space horizontally. As we moved to the new shelf shape, we found ourselves to be more successful, although there were still 3 major issues. The first major issue was the spacing between boxes. The spacing needed to be exactly equidistant in order to keep the boxes from being pulled by gravity. The second issue was weight distribution within each storage box itself. The boxes needed to have there internal weight distibuted evenly as well to avoid boxes tipping. The last issue was the space clearance for going over the top curve of the shelf. Becuase we were still having trouble deciding how we would attach the boxes to the rotating belt, we had a hard time moving on to the other big issues, until we came up with our final design.
--Final Design Decision--
When addressing concerns regarding clearance space for the boxes, balancing weight, and the possibility of boxes rotating over, we arrived at our most significant design change. The wheels that were once turned by chains are now pulled by the dowels that hold the boxes. No longer would we have to think of ways to attach the dowels to the belt, because they were now a part of the belt itself. The gears are now wheels with 3 grooves in each, one groove per dowel. The grooves serve as nesting points for the dowels as they rotate around to the other side. We attched the dowels to string, creating a track of equidistant shelves. This design is clearer in presentation, but much more challenging in execution. We discovered very quickly that our dimensions needed to be exact so that rotating dowels would line up to each notch. We ended up working backwards with our calculations arriving at the key demensions.