Building Your Own Belonging with Little You 3D
As they grow, children develop schema for the world around them – a general understanding of society that organizes people, places, and things into categories and buckets, so to speak. Societal stereotypes influence and often takeover these schemas. Unfortunately, this takeover is not always accurate, appropriate, or beneficial to the socio-emotional development of a child. In fact, this societal influence can stunt a child’s development, proving to be harmful to the child and even society at large.
Grace, a science teacher in North Philadelphia, in the beginning of the year said, “one of my favorite activities is to have my students illustrate a scientist. This is a pretty classic activity with somewhat predictable results. Children tend to draw a man in a lab coat holding beakers with brightly colored liquids in them. Sometimes the man has crazy hair, sometimes he is wearing goggles or thick glasses. Generally, this man is some version of Albert Einstein. From here, the activity progresses to revealing to the students that all they have to do in order to see a scientist is look in the mirror because they can be scientists, and in fact, they already are scientists!” The purpose of the activity is to begin to break down the stereotype that has caused them to rely on this singular schema of science and to begin to build themselves into that schema, even if it is not a long-term interest of theirs. It’s true that this is just an ice breaker for a year of science instruction, however it is extremely telling. This simple activity shows the power of societal stereotypes paired with a lack of representation.
Students need to see themselves or the possibility of themselves in everything they study and everything they learn. It is crucial that diversity is allowed, welcomed, created, and constantly reinvented within the classroom.
It is intuitive for adults to attempt to inspire students by encouraging them to pursue their dreams, and of course students should pursue their dreams! However, too often, those dreams are unintentionally interpreted and limited by the society that a child is raised in or around. For example, a young Black child who identifies as a female might dream of becoming a scientist. However, that dream is slowly muted as she learns about prominent figures in science such as Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Niehls Bohr, Gregor Mendel, etc. Even Rosalind Franklin – a traditionally mentioned scientific figure – does not fully reflect this child’s identity or journey. What begins to happen is the internalization of the subliminal messaging that successful scientists – those who leave a legacy – look and behave a certain way. Although this is an example related to a specific subject area in school, it can be generalized to most other subjects and/or situations. The bottom line is that dreams can only be pursued to the point that their pathways can be designed and built; and pathways can only be designed and built if the tools to do so are readily accessible.
The team at Little You has thoughtfully created a free to use application accessible on the web that not only allows, but also encourages children to design personalized avatars that can then be printed using 3D printing technology and delivered to the user’s home. Little You has curated a thorough web space for young people to learn how to design a character that reflects their own personality, style, future occupations, or even the different aspects of their humanity. The web space includes instructional videos and user-created examples in addition to clean visuals and infographics that make navigation easy for any user. Once the character is designed, users can purchase a figurine of their character. The team at Little You will then print the character using high quality 3D printers and ship it off!
Little You is a place where young people can intentionally and safely ignore the boundaries placed on them by society in terms of how they are supposed to look in order to succeed at certain jobs, hobbies, and careers. Young people can explore their curiosities and identities and see those aspects of themselves come to fruition in the form of a tangible self-portrait that could look exactly like them or could reflect creative experimentation with their physical looks. Where society attempts to stunt their ideas, Little You encourages its users to explore the possibilities of their own reflection, supporting the notion that your dreams do not have to be associated with any particular form of self-expression.
The possibilities for classroom incorporation of Little You into curricula are multiple. In fact, the possibility for cross-curricular connections is extremely intuitive as students incorporate literacy skills to read and listen to directions, technology skills as they utilize the site and creative skills as they build their character. Teachers can easily collaborate to incorporate these characters into every subject multiple times a year.
Educators know that belonging is a critical part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs on the path to self-actualization. Little You has created a platform that allows young people to create a sense of belonging for themselves. Furthermore, that belongingness can then go beyond an avatar created on the internet and becomes a tangible figure for them to own. This figure can then have a place in their life as a sort of trophy reminding them that they are the champions of their own dreams and ambitions if only they take the time to build a portrait of themselves into the roles they desire.
While society will continually attempt to dictate the manner in which children see the world as well as how they define their place within it, educators will find it is quite possible to foster an environment within the classroom where challenging societal stigmas is normal, welcomed, and expected. This will not be accomplished with a perfectly executed lesson plan or a thorough cross-curricular unit plan. This feat will be accomplished with the little things that teachers choose to thoughtfully incorporate into each day in order to build a mindset of belonging amongst each group of children that steps into the room.