Connecting Children around the World to Explore Emotions through the Emosilla "Emotions Chair"


by Susan Klimczak -

Ilaria La Manna is an extraordinary children's educator and director of Fab Lab Argentina, who works with FabLat, an organization that connects children and educators learning and making all over Latin America.  She is in Boston taking some courses and generously offered to connect our Fab Lab to a network of Fab Labs doing an Emosilla or "Emotion Chair" workshop in Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica and Columbia on Saturday 5 December 2015.

Fair Foods of Boston, an organization that distributes food and makes colorful benches, donated several sheets of 4' x 8' plywood that our Shopbot-tery Guru Brad cut using the chair templates.  It took some creative collaboration with Ilaria to change up the press fit design to match the width of the wood that we had!

Ilaria started the workshop by exploring emotions with the six girls aged 4-8.  She used a wonderful slide show of photos that really engaged the youth.  Her blending of simple language, questions and humor created a learning environment where the children could comfortably explore the full range of emotions, not just the happy ones!

Then Ilaria asked the children to draw an emotion that they felt on a worksheet handout with colored pens and crayons. When they finished, we got on the Skype and they shared their drawings with children in other workshops around the world.

The children then started building the press-fit Emosilla chairs.  I was amazed at how even the smallest ones LOVED to sand the edges and take mighty swings of the rubber mallet to pound the chairs together.  They were intrigued by the press-fit design and how to fit the pieces of the chair together like a puzzle.  Ilaria used simple instructions and explanations to help them feel confident enough to try the new tools with gusto!

Then some children painted their chairs with water-based paints (we got four colors --- white, blue, red, yellow --- and they mixed the colors they wanted in recycled plastic food containers) using cheap sponge paint brushes from the hardware store. Others went into the fab lab and created their emotion faces, using GIMP and Inkscape to digitally reproduce the design that they had drawn.  Then they lasercut their designs onto 11 inch circles.  They loved playing with the emotion faces as masks before we used wood glue to attach them to the chairs!

When the children needed a break, they spontaneously went over to the Skype panel and started interacting with other children around the world, sharing funny faces and gestures.  They were proud of their colorful hands. . . 

as well as their colorful chairs, which they shared with other children via Skype in Latin America!

I have to admit that clean-up was pretty time-consuming because little people find endlessly creative ways get paint outside of the plastic table cloths that we used as dropcloths.  But it was worth all the effort because, as Seymour Papert would say, the children had "hard fun," thanks to Ilaria!

Once I was alerted to the concept of "hard fun" I began listening for it and heard it over and over. It is expressed in many different ways, all of which all boil down to the conclusion that everyone likes hard challenging things to do. But they have to be the right things matched to the individual and to the culture of the times. These rapidly changing times challenge educators to find areas of work that are hard in the right way: they must connect with the kids and also with the areas of knowledge, skills and (don't let us forget) ethic adults will need for the future world.

-Seymour Papert (