The Belonging Bundle is a kit of tools designed for kids coming from displaced homes to establish ownership and create a safe space to call home.
The Belonging Bundle derived from my personal experience of being in foster care, and my struggles with gaining control and ownership in an unstable environment and finding a sense of belonging and identity in a new family. The survival kit aims to provide kids in similar situations with tools to help cope with the confusing and scary time that is foster care and adoption. The experience invites guests into a bedroom to make their own, establish control, and to empathize with what foster kids might be feeling.
2. Part 1 - The Survival Kit: The Belonging Bundle
3. Part 2 - The Experience: The Belonging Bedroom
The foster care experience is a scary, confusing, and uncertain time for a child. Their childhood is disrupted; homes change, families change, and the future is unknown. This instability can cause kids to develop their own coping mechanisms to deal with this difficult situation. Adults can also face difficulties engaging with the child and creating a safe, new home space for the child, and strangers don't always know how to engage with adoptees.
From my experience, because I looked so different from my adopted family, the way I coped was to disengage, remain invisible and to blend in. I would retreat to my room, a space I could personalize and call my own, and when strangers would question my name name and identity, I would go along with the story they imagined for me.
How can I design a better way for kids to cope with the uncertainty and fear during a transition into foster care?
2. Part 1 - The Survival Kit: The Belonging Bundle
The Belonging Bundle is designed for young kids ages 4-8. Each tool in the kit provides a blank canvas for kids to freely write and draw on, establishing ownership over their belongings and surroundings. The kit encourages kids to be creative, own their story, and find comfort in any place they need to call home.
Inspired by the bindles carried by hobos and voyagers, the drawstring pillowcase lets kids gather all of their valuables into one bag ready to move at any time.
Kids are encouraged to write their names and personalize the pillowcase, which instantly provides comfort and familiarity once placed on a pillow in a new bed in a new home.
The multi-use markers are used to personalize every item in the kit. Drawing, marking and personalization declares ownership and stakes an object as their own personal possession.
The words on each marker, asks kids to reflect and define their own meanings of belonging, family and identity, and validates each kids experience by reminding them of the qualities they have to endure through this transition time.
The Picture Frame
Bringing a piece of home to decorate a new space helps establish belonging. The colorable picture frame allows kids to honor their past, remember where they came from, and bring comfort into their new home.
Adoptees need to make sense of their own stories. Each kids adoption story is their own, and they don't have to share it with others if they don't want to.
Prompts like "I feel happy when..." and "These are the people I live with" encourages kids to write and draw about their own experience, reflect on their feelings, and also get familiar with the new space and people they have to call home.
Kato the Kangaroo
The kangaroo is seen as a nomadic animal that carries its most prized belonging in its pouch. This stuffed kangaroo acts as a companion that is experiencing all the same things that the child is going through.
Like all the objects in the kit, the child can draw on Kato, and also keep their most valuable belongings inside Kato's zippered pouch.
"Kato Finds Home" Children's Book
The children's book tells of a story of losing and finding home that the child can relate to. Giving kids space to explore issues of belonging through stories is a healthy way to tap into any repressed feelings they may be having.
The child can also bring this book to their new guardian, and establish a ritual of reading with them. A shared and steady activity a child can look forward to can further help establish belonging and comfort in their new home.
3. Part 2 - The Installation: The Belonging Bedroom
The Belonging Bedroom invites guests into an unfamiliar, new, cold white bedroom, simulating the experience of a foster child. Like a blank canvas, they are encouraged to grab a marker and draw on every surface of the bedroom, marking their territory, establishing control and ownership over the new space. Through this public engagement, I hope to create empathy for the foster care experience.
Curating the Experience: I designed and put up posters around the building inviting guests to the bedroom. Once there, signage instructs guests how to use the room, it's rules, and to take a survey answering questions like "What does home mean to you?" and "How do you create belonging?".
This project asked me to draw from personal experiences to turn pain into product. Not only did I learn about myself, I also learned how to tackle difficult subjects and I turned unfortunate situations into an opportunity for design. For a quick 2 week project, I was able to quickly mock up works-like models to test with users, and scrap together simple, bare materials into an installation. I hope that the Belonging Bundle and Bedroom raises awareness and empathy for foster care children, and can help make a foster's child transition into a new home a bit more easy and comforting.
Moving forward, I want to use the results from the survey to create a product line extension for different age groups. I think this type of kit would work well for college students experiencing home sickness in their college dorms. I also want to explore different aesthetics to provide several options for kids, such as "Tommy the Turtle" with a floral motif.
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