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Friday, 16 September 2011

Toying With An Idea

There used to be a time when serious educationalists and more importantly parents, frowned on the viewing of cartoons. Reading of 'proper books' was vigorously promoted and cartoons or comics were consigned to the frivolous entertainment basket.

Construction play started with painted wooden blocks and migrated to meccano sets and more latterly, plastic blogs such as Lego. Several decade later and the digital revolution has also had (for better or worse) a profound impact on child learning toys and activities.

Realising that a child's Play inspires and promotes the creative process from an early age, US company LaunchPad have designed products that enable mobile devices like the iPad to bridge this gap between informal and formal learning.

Their stated goal is to harness the power of play to help children capture and share their ideas with other kids around the world.

More specifically their educational goals are to:
  1. Empower young children to share their ideas and stories with friends and family by bridging the gap between formal writing and imaginative play.
  2. Introduce and guide key storytelling principles like Character, Setting, Story Arc, and Emotion to help structure kids’ creative writing.
  3. Promote cultural literacy through ToonTube: A Global Storytelling Network for Kids, by Kids.
Recently created cartoons by children on ToonTube
The underlying developmental theory is that "Constructionist software aims to draw out a child’s implicit understanding of curricula and make it explicit through visual and physical representation so that the child may better "debug" and reconstruct his or her mental model"

"Toontastic draws out the emotive structure implicit within storytelling by using an explicit template for visually mapping story events and emotions while constructing one’s cartoon. This helps the child to create a more impactful, coherent, and ultimately educational story"

This then is a serious attempt to mesh sound educational learning principles with digital delivery. A child is encouraged to build their story-line one scene at a time.

The Toontastic app has recently been added to Apple's App Store Hall of Fame.  To date there have been 40,000 paid downloads user imagination has created 170,000 cartoon characters.

It comes as no surprise to learn that Co-founder Andy Russell was with toy maker Hasbro in a former  working life. The company intends to continue building apps that combine play with defined learning goals.

Not to be outdone, Lego has joined the battle for young hearts and minds with Lego Universe although its educational value is more difficult to define.

Lego Universe won best game at E3 in 2010. A  family-oriented game it fosters creativity and imagination are the focus of this game and security measures make it safe for family playing.

A final word about ToonTastic which incidentally was developed in partnership with Stanford’s School of Education and Zeum: San Francisco’s Children’s Museum.  They have posted their advice for user testing with children which should become gospel for other childrens game developers.
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