HTH COVID-19 School Information Parent and Student Resources, Meal Services, and Distance Learning Information

Student Projects


Authors: Don Mackay, Stephanie Lytle

Grade: 12th

Subjects: Engineering, Humanities

Game night
HTHI Students working with children
HTHI Students working with children
Boy with box toy
Children with light saber
Children with box animal

In this 6 week project, students learned how to design and build fun toys designed to meet a disabled child’s needs. First, they research the therapeutic needs of the disabled child and brainstorm ways toys can meet those needs. To refine the design, the students present mockups to the child, family, and therapists and collect feedback. As they build the toy, students learn to use laser cutters and 3D printers and to design Arduino electronic circuits that control servos, motors, LEDs, buttons, and sound cards. At exhibition time, the child and family are invited to a ceremony where the final version of the toy is presented.



Getting to Know the Client

Teams of three students each chose one of these children as their client. As part of their humanities class, each team conducted preliminary research in preparation for interviewing their client (including parents and therapists). This interview allowed students to identify the child’s therapeutic needs, personal tastes, and physical abilities. Each team completed a client profile and preliminary sketches to present to a panel of engineers before proceeding with the creation of the toy.


Understanding the Issues Surrounding Play

Students also researched and debated topical issues relevant to children and toys, such as the role advertisers, manufacturers, and toy stores should play in encouraging gender-neutral play.


Using Design Thinking

In their engineering class, the teams applied the engineering design process to develop a toy that could help in the client’s treatment, specifically the development of his/her cognitive, social, or physical skill the client’s team identified as important. Some teams used Google Sketchup to create their design.


Creating the Toys

These toys were as varied as the children. Some took existing toys and “hacked” them to make them more accessible and/or interesting to the client. Others designed toys from scratch. Some added electronic components to make the toy more interactive while other toys were “old school,” constructed from wood and operating without batteries. Each design was subjected to multiple rounds of assessment and revision over the course of the four week project, both by the client and by professionals (engineers and therapists).


Presenting the Toys

After the hard work ended, all teams gave formal presentations to the clients and their families at a special exhibition where the final products and students’ research were presented. Students’ writing and research was on display for parents to peruse. The focus, of course, was the presentation of the toy to each client. Each team of student engineers presented a two-minute video documenting the interview, design, and creation of the toy. After each video, the child came up to receive his/her toy.


The skills a particular student gained depended largely on the requirements of the toy they were creating/hacking. Many learned to use a laser cutter to make boxes and custom parts.  Some utilized Google Sketchup to design their toys, while others created detailed sketches to determine measurements, etc. on their own. Those that incorporated digital electronics learned to program microprocessors (such as Arduinos), to wire circuits, and to solder. Interpersonal skills, such as gaining empathy for a client’s problem and gathering feedback from user, experience were universal. Since they all had to document their project with a video and on a website, videography, video editing, and web site, authoring was extensively practiced.

Our students went outside of our schools to observe the child at play in his/her home in the company of licensed therapists. The in-person interviews allowed them to observe how parents and therapists work together to assist a child with special needs to meet his/her personal goals. Students were charged–at the outset of the project–to set up the initial interview, conduct preliminary research in order to prepare for the interview, and then conduct follow-up sessions with the families to determine the best course of action for the child. Students learned to create something novel for a real client with very real needs. It was challenging for our students, and because each of their clients was very different, each team encountered very different challenges when it came to designing and engineering the “perfect” toy.

The feelings of gratitude from those attending the exhibition were tender and humbling. Many tears of joy were shed as each child and his/her family came forward to receive their custom toy created just for them. Without exception, each family was deeply grateful and asked how they could be included in future projects with our school.