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People don’t always think of print books as being interactive, or using games, but they are and they do. I write mainly nonfiction and concept books, as well as interactive apps.  To engage children and keep them interested, and to impart information in a fun way, much of my work uses a form of “gamification”: lift-the-flap, mazes, guessing games, inside-outside concepts, search-n-find, ABCs and numbers, puzzles, matching games, hidden objects, word/noun object recognition, and so forth.

EcoMazes: 12 Earth Adventures uses mazes to explore and understand ecosystems, to see the vegetation and geology, and a finding/counting game to learn about which animals live in the habitat. In Hatch! an egg or a clutch of eggs is shown. Children try to guess what kind of bird it is from hints (“The bird that lays these eggs is found on every continent except Antarctica.” “This one never drinks water” “…fastest running two-legged animal on Earth. But it can’t fly.”). In Busy Builders children see the giant bug, and then turn the page to check out the unusual kinds of structures certain bugs make, and why. In Slithery Snakes they are encouraged to try to figure out what kind of snake it is from the close-up scaly skin patterns shown, along with tantalizing facts about the critter: “Its common name comes from its skin pattern (like a precious stone) and its unique tail (which sounds like a child’s toy).” Turn the page and the answer appears, visually, with its name, and more fun facts – you see the snake in its home, with other creatures that live in the same habitat. In Mazeways: A to Z, the letter of the alphabet forms a maze … A is for Airport (ever been to Heathrow or JFK? They really ARE a maze!), H is for Highway, L is for Library, R is for Ranch, and so on –  you are playing, but also learning more about the places and how they work. In Market Maze (Holiday House, Spring 2015) children explore where food comes from and how it arrives at their town greenmarkets. All of these are nonfiction subjects, with a structure that encourages play, learning, and engagement.

Many subjects lend themselves to these sorts of game-like interactive formats. Authors and illustrators of children’s nonfiction materials should consider these devices. For learning about a person, an animal, a historical period, science, a place, or even a fictional character, you can start with a question, and note fun facts that may allow the child to guess who or what you are interested in, before they get to the satisfying answer. Or in a more interactive way, they can lift flaps, play matching games, find and count things, solve a maze…

Engaging in games helps children with concentration, setting goals, problem-solving, working together and collaboration (many allow multiple players), perseverance, and celebrate achieving goals. Many games, and mazes in particular, also help children learn decision-making and critical thinking skills. They make them think ahead and plan steps in advance. Mazes teach alternative ways to solve problems and judge spatial relationships. For younger children, they help develop fine motor skills; for older children, maneuvering through mazes helps improve handwriting. Game formats are particularly suited to reluctant readers, boys, and special needs children. And they’re fun!

(FYI, in June, I’ll be doing a workshop at the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference on “gamification” [primarily for interactive apps] with Kellian Adams Pletcher, founder and senior producer at Green Door Labs.)

In the educational community, and among parents, learning via games has gained credibility, respect, and lots of interest in the last couple of years.

If you want to learn more about the “gamification” of children’s materials, here are some great links:

Three Keys to Gamification for Education    http://www.informationweek.com/mobile/mobile-devices/3-keys-to-gamification-for-education/d/d-id/1109937?

The Gamification of Education    http://www.knewton.com/gamification-education/

Four Benefits of Gamifying Education in Your Classroom    http://www.esparklearning.com/gamification-of-education/

Vegetables or Candy? Digital Book World looks at the Gamification of Children’s Books    http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/55546-vegetables-or-candy-dbw-panel-looks-at-gamification-of-children-s-books.html

Games Based Learning Analysis and Planning Tool     http://www.games-ed.co.uk/resources/Games-Based-Learning-Analysis-and-Planning-Tool-0.9.pdf

Gamification and Education: The Core Principle   http://iridescentlearning.blogspot.com/2013/05/gamification-and-education-core.html

Game-based Learning: Analyzing a Rising Sector   http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/initiative/games-and-learning-publishing-council-analyzing-a-rising-sector/

Using Gaming Principles to Engage Students http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/using-gaming-principles-to-engage-students/

The importance of Play in raising inner-directed (“intrinsic”) children (rather than “extrinsic” more materialistic kids)

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201001/the-decline-play-and-rise-in-childrens-mental-disorders

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Recently, on Facebook, I did a “small rant on a snowy day,” and thought I’d post it on this blog…

“I wish more of my children’s book illustrator friends would do apps. You are needed! The ‘art’ in most kids’ apps these days (particularly the ones purporting to be educational) looks so much alike – computer-generated, bright primary colors, cartoon-y… Children recognize good art, and deserve it. Children’s book artists have so much more style and variety.”

To expand a bit: Art makes content. Kids love and appreciate beauty. Why shouldn’t they have well-crafted and elegantly-made visuals, seamlessly integrated?

An anecdote: On a school visit once, after the program, we had a Q&A. Later, as I was packing up my materials (which included big spreads of the original art – this was before Powerpoint), a teacher came up with a 3rd grade girl, and said, “Ellen had a question – you didn’t call on her.”

“Oh,” I said, “What is your question?”

Ellen asked, “How do you make them so pretty?”

I almost teared up, and kept her question on a post-it in my studio for years. I have never forgotten that girl.

Do not underestimate the power of beauty.

Here is a quote from a great recent post by the app developer and author, Sarah Towle:

“…However, lacking in the above equation, I felt, was the time-honored lesson to be drawn from the world of children’s publishing: that the visual element serves a valuable role too, and one often neglected in today’s interactive media for kids.

As a children’s author and a connoisseur of picture book art, I was shocked by the low visual quality of some of the media products we studied at Dust or Magic. Many of them, I’m sorry to say, were just plain ugly, with illustrations that looked little better than clip art.

Anyone working on behalf of children must appreciate the role that great illustration plays in communicating with and teaching children. In illustrated books, the story and images weave seamlessly together to create something better than the sum of their parts. Indeed, great illustrations tell at least 50% of the story and can make an already great text shine even brighter.

Yet, this is not often the case in today’s digital products.

Not all children’s digital media will contain story. They don’t all have too. But digital media are nothing if not visual. It is imperative, therefore, that we developers make our products visually appealing. To make them works of art.”

You can read the rest of her post here:

http://sarahtowle.com/…/26/j07i91um0k19nt0aeuku4avd5xx3as

The 13th Annual Dust or Magic Institute: Magic-Making Factor #4

So lots of illustrators and authors responded to my FB mini-rant (we also need better and well-edited writing in apps! I’ve seen purported “educational” apps with spelling and grammatical mistakes.). They are very interested in doing apps but many don’t know where to start. Here’s a kind of “basics” post I did about a year ago for Digital Storytime…of course, things have changed in the last year, including the fact that you now get 100 free promo codes with each app publication and update, and I now have a new app out based upon the maze app, called “Roxie’s Puzzle Adventure.”

An a-MAZE-ing Transition: Roxie Munro Talks about Print, Digital & Lessons Learned

http://digitalmediadiet.com/?p=2266

But the main problem, of course and sadly, is money. There are various issues re ROI (return on investment) – a few, of many (also discussed in the Digital Storytime blog, above):  development costs are high/price point for apps is low; marketing is very difficult; discovery is an issue; there are too many kinds of devices out there which require different platforms, and so on …

And children’s book authors and illustrators, who have so much to offer the app world in creativity and originality, have to eat and support themselves, their families, and their art too.

But, I just wish more of these talented folks could make apps! The industry needs them.