Little Inventors

www.nesta.org.uk/case-study/little-inventors/
Skip to content

Annual reach: 10,000 children submissions, and 8,500 resource downloads
Aims/outcomes: problem-solving; creativity; community engagement; links with industry/maker experts
How: Challenges, events, online resources

Silent ear covers - Little Inventors

Silent ear covers for people with autism, designed by Emily for Little Inventors

“Instead of putting children’s drawings on the fridge, why not push an idea as far as it can go?”

Dominic Wilcox, Founder, Little Inventors

Little Inventors began as a one-off project in 2015, when designer Dominic Wilcox went back to his roots in Sunderland and challenged local children to come up with invention ideas. Children drew their ideas on paper, including a short description of their invention, and developed prototypes with basic arts and crafts materials. Over 600 ideas were collected and then presented to local makers, and the group’s favourite ideas were made and put on exhibition. The impacts of this experiment - on children’s interest in invention and making, on their perceptions of what they could do, and on relationships within the community, not to mention the potential of the lego-brick sorter, the high-five machine, or the ladybird umbrella to change and improve lives - hinted at the possible benefit to be brought to children, communities and economies across the country.

Little Inventors now runs around five challenges of this kind annually, and offers free resource packs for download from their website. These resources were developed in collaboration with teaching experts and a consortium of 30 schools. The website is also continuously open for children to submit invention ideas. The focus is on social purpose invention - developing ideas that would bring real benefits and serve real needs in society.

“Children are experts in creativity and they don’t have to wait until adulthood to explore that and make the most of it.”

Katherine Mengardon, Chief Educator, Little Inventors
A participant’s design for an eco-friendly smart house, which was picked up by Newcastle architecture firm FaulknerBrowns.

A participant’s design for an eco-friendly smart house, which was picked up by Newcastle architecture firm FaulknerBrowns

This trust in children’s creative abilities has fostered some impressive results. Participants have drawn on their own life experiences to invent thoughtful products that respond to real-world needs. For example, one participant’s experience of sensory overload due to her autism informed her invention of “silent ear covers”, ear muffs made to look like ears so as to pass undetected. Her invention was featured in a Little Inventors exhibition, and she is now a judge for future competitions. Her parents noted that the process had helped their previously shy daughter “find her voice and come out of her shell”.

Another participant’s design for an eco-friendly smart house was picked up by Newcastle architecture firm FaulknerBrowns. The architects transformed her multifaceted vision - a house that harvests rainwater and recycles food waste for energy, and whose staircases turn easily into ramps to make it accessible to all visitors - into a stylish model, consulting the little inventor throughout the 60 hours that it took for her idea to be made real.