Designing Playful Technology for Young Children's Mealtime
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This dissertation examines the role technology plays in various relationships between parents and young children at family mealtimes, which constitutes a recurring routine in family lives. Mealtimes are important for young children’s nutritional intake, and for providing them with ways to learn healthy eating habits and good table manners. However, their food pickiness and mealtime tantrums are also a source of parents’ stress. There is potential for technology solutions to support young children’s and families’ mealtime practices, but there is also the potential for such solutions to be rejected because of the general parent’s rejection of technology in this context. Thus, it embodies the potential paradox technology brings to family dynamics. The study began by building a formative understanding of young children’s mealtime practices both in preschool classrooms and in their homes. Participant observation was used to gain insights into the values of children and their adult caretakers, and how they express them through their shared mealtimes. The value tensions between children and adults, and the parents’ mealtime goals were identified in that context. Based on what was learned in this formative work, a speculative design survey was used to understand the parents’ perspectives on technology at mealtimes. Thus, 12 storyboards were designed, one for each unique combination of technology type and mealtime goals, and created a survey tool depicting all 12 scenarios for 122 parents of preschoolers. The results identified the unique ways in which each of these form factors appeals to and worries parents, providing designers with insights about the likelihood of adoption and acceptance. Drawing on the results from these studies, three prototypes were designed to address different value tensions (e.g., the tension between children’s interest in experimenting with food versus the teachers’ interest in cleanliness). The prototypes were then evaluated with the children, their parents, and teachers in laboratory studies. The results show technology has the potential to enhance shared meals between children and adults, but it also has the potential to distract or influence children in inappropriate ways. The findings suggest the opportunities for novel designs to provide creative and meaningful experiences, such as playful productivity, that support the needs of both stakeholders. Based on the knowledge learned in previous studies, a smart object, the “stamp plate”, was developed. Deploying a prototype in a field study enabled parents to guide their children to explore ideas of data concepts, and it functioned as a tool to aid in teaching numeracy skills. While using the stamp plate, children also ate more and engaged in exploratory art expression with their family members. The study’s results demonstrate how activities, such as family bonding, play, learning, and togetherness, might be supported through the use of a novel technology. This dissertation examines the properties of technological tools to be used or conceived of for young children’s family routines that aim to foster meaningful experiences and rich interactions. It contributes to the investigations of how children’s technology use at home has emerged as an ongoing engagement with their life routines, and how designing for this process of engagement can address the values of children and their parents. It is hoped that the design outcomes and insights can be expanded to inform the everyday integration of smart objects into the family lives of children, to inform the design of further technological tools so developers will consider the complexity of the relationship between technology and the routines of family life.