Get kids interested in tech with this dancing traffic light

special "live" dancing cross walk sign

dancing-walk-signalYou know we’re interested in the combination of “art” with science and technology, so we loved this project which hacks the traditional “green man” signal for walking across an intersection. This Smart Company (as in Smart Car) project hooked the “man” up to motion capture of an individual dancing in a nearby booth.

Many people went in to the booth and the dances were broadcast to the pedestrian light in real time. The idea was to improve safety by helping people wait for the light before crossing. The dancing made waiting less boring and more entertaining. And it worked; 81% more people stopped at the traffic light, and enjoyed it, according to this short video about the project.

From a sustainability standpoint, we like technology that makes life better for pedestrians and cyclists.

My kids loved the video but be aware, the music has a bad word (a**, as in “shake your…”).

Cycling season, with kids

Hopefully some places are getting a better summer than we have in London at the moment. Wherever you are, this is probably a time of year that bikes are in use, and since the Tour de France passed through London on Monday, I thought I’d offer some links about cycling with children. In an earlier post we looked at how bikes are a good link to sustainability and STEM, so check that out too.

Grist’s article “Babes in bikeland: Advice for cycling with kids” by Anna Fahey, points out that there are many ways to travel and commute with young children on your bike (with some great pictures).

Babes in Bikeland

The European Cyclists Federation offers insights into how they do things for kids in “high bike” countries like the Netherlands.

This article on gives some insights into carrying kids as well as progressing them to their own bikes.

Trailer bike
REI’s Step 4: Trailer bike

Finally, REI (we’re not connected to REI in any way) has a short article about the progression of bike equipment for children, including a handy 5-minute video on an easy and comfortable way to teach kids how to learn to ride a bike.

Happy pedalling!

Nature’s Big Decline… in Picture Books

forest3-300x200Perhaps not surprisingly, picture books are increasingly illustrating cities and built environments over natural environmental settings.

Research on the 296 Caldecott award winners from 1938 to 2008 found that over the years these books represented nature and animals less and less. (See a discussion of the article, “The Human-Environment Dialog in Award-winning Children’s Picture Books” by J. Allen Williams Jr,Christopher Podeschi, Nathan Palmer, Philip Schwadel and Deanna Meyler here.)

The researchers thought that since environmental problems are of growing concern, it was possible that nature imagery might increase to highlight these issues. But they also realized that given our increasing isolation from the natural world, picture books might echo this isolation. Indeed, according to the World Health Organization, in 1990 less than 40% of the global population lived in cities, but by 2010, more than half of all people lived in an urban areas.

We should note that of course, Caldecott winners are great books, but they may ultimately not be representative of all children’s books.

Still, the issue of how we represent nature and built environments is dear to our hearts here at Kids Future Press. We’re aiming for that middle ground, where stories reflect how the natural world supports people and how people nurture nature within built contexts through “eco-districts,” green roofs, urban agriculture, renewable energy and alternative transportation. While these elements can never be the story itself, they and other “nature” elements, serve as the backdrop for the characters and adventures in our stories.

do kids believe in Earth Magic?

WASSUP is the magic word with a lost meaning. In the Earth Magic program of Northern Education for Sustainability, 7 and 8 year old children discover the lost meaning is “Water, Air, Soil, Sun, Animals and Plants.”

They spend a day in the field to uncover this meaning and then a term of school time investigating how human activity is affecting the environment. The program, like many others, focuses on pupil’s own behavior change in daily life to help protect the environment. At the end they are certified “Earth Magicians” and, hopefully, beginning a lifelong mission to keep earth magic working smoothly.

Earth Magicians, via the Northumberland Gazette

I like many aspects of this program, especially its experiential and hands on approach. But I think it could really benefit from the “wow” that art and design could lend to the topic. Yes it is important to know which of our personal behaviors we can change to improve environmental sustainability.

But we also know that everyone doing a little adds up to a little (see this short argument by David JC MacKay). Even worse, our existing social and city structures mean that for many households, common sense sustainable behaviors are not practical choices.

We need to be introducing bigger ideas about redesigning how we live, including at the spectacular, gee whiz scale. These disruptive design ideas will do a lot more to help children carry an interest in sustainability into the future.

Here are some examples:

how can we reuse the “big things” like washing machines that we live with:

superuse-cafe superuse-cafe2
Espresso Bar *K by Superuse Studios


What if we could grow gardens on buses?GARDENBUSSAL_640
rooftop bus experiment in Spain


Where else could we use wind up power?WindUp-Chair-PegaDesign-4
Pega Design and Engineering’s chair with windup battery charger via Inhabitat


What if power cords lit up to remind us of how much energy we’re using?lightup cord
Static, from the Swedish Interactive Institute