Our mission is to empower the children of now, to be creative, engaged citizens who’s imaginations shape a better world.
To achieve this, we work with libraries, gardens, heritage sites, hospitals, cultural centres, local councils & schools to radically change the way children interact with places.
CHILD NATION guides kids from 7 - 11 years of age in creative place hacks - experiences that bring out their best imaginative head-space in response to the immediate world around them, celebrating their weirdest ideas and giving them permission to be themselves.
Each interactive story adventure asks them simple and fun questions, and guides them to physically explore, using their own answers to craft an individualised experience.
Listening, searching and having ideas, each adventure draws on different art forms and has a very different outcome.
Liberated from the gaze of their adults, kids engage with sites in new ways that disrupt adult ways of seeing. Their adults are playfully given permission to let them roam at a distance, where they are guided to find wonder in places that might have otherwise been boring.
Child Nation is choose-your-own adventure in the real world!
Imagine finding a tiny folded letter carefully hidden behind a book shelf in your local library....
The letter is in a child’s hand writing and it’s addressed… to the building.
It is a piece of temporal graffiti - an artefact of a Child Nation experience and a glimpse into a child’s imaginative world.
CHILD NATION VALUES
We see Child Nation as a country with no borders. Situated in places all over the world, its child leaders are smart and playful. They see the world around them with empathy and wonder. They forge new relationships with nature, with adults, with animals, and with themselves; fearlessly crossing boundaries to find extraordinary potential in the everyday.
Opportunities for playful thinking in children over seven years of age are being lost. Ranking-based education systems, safety concerns, car-accomodating cities, media saturation and the reduction in children's autonomous roaming range, are all contribute to children being more often in the company of adults. And because children are programmed to please adults, this means there are fewer opportunities for them to playfully explore their own unmediated ideas and develop a strong sense of self.
Creative play is well researched as a necessary developmental tool across all stages of childhood. As well as an important building block for innovative thinking skills, it contributes to inner calm, a feeling of agency and an understanding of ourselves. According to global business leaders and the OECD, the most sought-after skills in the workplaces of the future will be creativity, problem solving and coordinating with others. The entrepreneurial adults who will thrive in this new world, will have enjoyed childhoods with plenty of creative time where they feel uninhibited to try out new ideas.
Whilst our institutions have made play central in early childhood programs, its value seems to drop off in the first years of primary school, replaced with rule based sport and technique-focused visual art and performing
arts programs. Curriculum-focused measures leave little room for the development of creative thinking skills which require a capacity to imagine and actively let go of goals and right / wrong answers.
Digital games for this age group (7 - 11 years) rarely offer open space for kids to create their own content and, with their pre-made characters and prescribed aesthetics, they don’t genuinely foster imaginative minds.
We have created Child Nation as a way to set up weird situations, explore funny ideas and enable (safe) subversive acts. We are looking to reverse the adult gaze, to give kids permission to see their world through their own eyes.
A cup can have a personality, a room can talk, a supermarket or library can hold a secret, a parent can be a person, and a child can try out being someone else. Child Nation offers opportunities to play with the people, places and things that are around kids, so that they can see it all through new eyes and form new connections and relationships.
Child Nation has grown from the canon of participative art, based on years of practice research. It's a digital translation of artist-thinking and a new way of offering a more diverse range of children access to new creative experiences.
Child Nation’s artist creators have witnessed how children flourish when making stuff up in private places away from the gaze of adults or peers. More than 1,500 children have now tested the Child Nation journeys and influenced the language and rhythm that underpins them.
The Child Nation Story
Child Nation’s founder Jessica Wilson is an internationally recognised artist working in participative art with children. In 2020 she was forced to take a participative recording project on-line. Instead of the usual group format, she worked with individual children on the phone whilst they wandered their own garden or local park. This is not a normal way of working with children in the arts. Jessica was surprised by how creative the child participants were, as they made up voices and characters for trees, rubbish bins, footpaths and the sky. She had never experienced this level of free-flowing ideas and animation amongst children in workshop contexts. The kids didn't want to stop talking!
Jessica hypothesised that the solo nature of the experience - away from the gaze of any other adults or peers - gave the children more permission to imagine. She decided to test this idea by removing even her adult self from the process, and began messing with no-code form builders. And Child Nation was born!
Uptake was instant, as performing arts programmers sought to provide innovative notions of digital programming to children during lockdown, and seasons of Child Nation’s at-home adventures were programmed in Australia, USA and Canada. Arts centres also used the platform as a means to enable international collaboration without travel, and new locally relevant content was developed for children in Singapore through The Artground and in Korea through Palbok Arts Centre. Jessica also worked with translators in Mexico and China to localise all of the content.
Child Nation continues to grow and develop with participation in the State Library Victoria’s Alchemy program, funding from The Australia Council, support from City of Melbourne’s Artplay, testing with 200 children in schools within the City of Brimbank, and Melbourne University’s prestigious paid accelerator program, MAP. There are now nearly 30 different adventures written by seven different artists and translated into six languages.
Child Nation brings the values and spirit of participative place-making to a far greater number and more diverse pool of children. It helps children to imaginatively claim connection and ownership of the places they inhabit and see the world beyond the adult constructs that limit their capacity to dream.
Founder and Lead Artist
Jessica is a professional artist who has conceived and realised 100’s of ambitious projects and fundraised more than $5.5 million across her career in partnership with high profile presenting partners around the world.
Most recently she has been driven to develop her ground breaking artistic research into the adult / child relationship and the power of connecting imaginatively with place.
Three of her projects specifically are relevant to the Child Nation concept;
I SEE YOU LIKE THIS, where children are asked what they like and don’t like about a parent before using that adult’s face as the canvas for a bizarre photo portrait. The project has experienced immense success and high profile exhibitions emerging from tours of Australia and Europe and was the only Australian showcase at the International Performing Arts for Young People forum in USA in 2020.
THE WAYFINDERS, which uses beacon technology to make trees, rocks and the sky talk into the headphones of passing pre-school-aged children with the content created by older children.
THE NARRATOR, a theatre experience that takes place on board a bus and re-frames the passing world of a city as places that are part of a story about childhood. The Narrator was created in Latvia at the Valmeira International Children's Festival and played at Adelaide's DREAMBIG in 2021 as a feature of the Australian Performing Arts Market.
CHILD NATION TEAM
VISUAL DESIGN Vanessa Fernandez
DRAMATURGS Sally Lewry & Kate Sulan
Micaela Gramajo (Mexico)
Jadah Pleither Nee Milroy (Palyku Australia)
Soumee De Girotra (Singapore)
with SINCERE thanks to …
SOPHIE TRAVERS for ongoing strategic and development advice.
MATT TRAVERS for early product development guidance.
Translators DINA KER (Arabic), FELIX CHING CHING HO and RITA JIANG (Mandarin), EVELYN RIDGEWAY (Vietnamese), MICHAELA GRAMAJO (Spanish), JEANY LEE (Korean).
TANYA DICKSON for seeing the potential in home experiences for kids.
JO SHEILLS for her copywriting eye in early incarnations.
STEVE BERRICK & WADE MANSELL for tech support.
CATHRYN NOLAN, DEBBY MAZIARZ, PETER TULLIN, MARK HENRY & SOPHIE LIEBERMAN for business development guidance.
LUCAS MICHAILIDIS for the lounge-room based idea generation that formed the basis of many of the adventures.