Learning by Design – Tools and Games for 0-24 Months


Game design for the youngest kids is understandably well outside the scope of any program, let alone something most children at this age would understand.  That does not mean you cannot include anything design related, it just means that you have to keep that well in reserve.  This is perhaps the most crucial stage of development of the brain, but the focus is on acquiring as much experience as possible.  Infants have very few options for exploring their environment and the world is a vast and terrifying place for them.  Their chief ability for expression at this age is crying and laughing or the fixed stare of wonderment.

With this in mind, the focus for game design should be on play and exploration, not creation.  You can sneak that in during the last few months of this period as a transition to the age of two.  It is important to keep in mind that kids at this age are still learning their environment and how much they can manipulate it and what is in it.  One of the reasons babies place things in their mouths and touch everything is to build up the suite of sensual experiences needed to not only determine what tastes good, but also to identify the world at large through physical sensations.  Remember, infants’ eyes still develop in the first few months and object permanence does not yet exist for them.  If they cannot see it, they are unaware of it.  Hearing helps, but sight is the main sense of humans.

For these reasons and others, rather than zeroing in on game design practices, kids should be encouraged to play.  The type of play that helps with game design has some structure to it, but still freeform enough that it does not feel controlled.  The play also invites failure and includes it as part of the fun.  Silliness is a great way to diffuse any feelings of judgment for failed attempts.  Some of the activities that help build the playfulness and imagination useful for game design includes:


  • Playing with the sounds of language/singing
  • Playing with shapes and colors
  • Using tools/toys in unintended ways (e.g. pots and pans as drums)
  • Programs like First 5’s “Read. Talk. Sing.”


Games and toys for this age group focus on developing these early skills.  Hence, there are a lot of tactile features for textures, colors and shapes, agency, and an assortment of sounds from language to music.  Games are also highly dependent on parental interaction as this is the primary source of child development given the presence of the baby’s parents is a source of constancy and provides assurance that as overwhelming as things may be, the world can be learned.  Rattles and the like contribute to this as the connections are made that the infant’s actions give it some control over the environment.


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