- Audio: Daniel Donahoo on literacy apps and tools for kids
Tony Wilson: We have our reviewer back – Daniel Donahoo, he is a researcher and author who’s interesting in childhood, learning and development and is a director of Project Synthesis that supports digital capacity and inclusion. He’s also a contributor to Wired magazine’s GeekDad.com, he’s written for The Age, On line opinion, Eureka Street, Huffington post and he’s a great expert to have in the app area. We’re up to the 5 to 8 years today Daniel, what have you got for us?
Daniel Donahoo: A range of tools. I sort of touched on last time, Toontastic, but I really think the interesting thing about 5 to 8s is that idea of, we do a lot of in schools and stuff, they’re beginning their story-writing, they’re trying to get a sense of how they tell a story, so as well as developing their own reading skills – and we’ll talk about a few books and digital stories that are sort of worth having a look at – that idea of tools that actually support children to create their own stories is really important. And Toontastic is probably – you know, you mentioned last time the ABC Art Maker – the Toontastic is a nice one in the sense that what it also does is it has some educational elements in that it takes children through the arc of a story…
Daniel: …so they have three or four scenes, so it sort of talks about the beginning, it talks about the climax, it sort of talks about the conclusion, and it gives them a real open-ended space to come up with a whole range of characters and draw their own backgrounds.
Tony: Might have to steal that for my primary school visits, it sounds like it does my job for me!
Daniel: [Laughs] Well you’d still have to maybe create a few stories…
Tony: Maybe, maybe that’s right…
Daniel: Yeah, yeah.
Tony: What else have you got there?
Daniel: So on that line as well, there’s some really interesting things like Rory’s Story Cubes which are actually, they’re actually a physical thing that you can actually use, but it’s also become an app now, which once again, you roll a whole bunch of dice on the – you know, press the screen, it rolls a whole bunch of virtual dice for you and it comes up with a whole bunch of pictures and ideas that can support you in your story-writing activities.
Tony: Ah, very good, that’s very clever because that is exactly how, you know, an author would try to teach kids about different stages of a story, and the idea that an app is kind of delivering that – it’s incredible.
Daniel: Yeah, well it’s that point where like, you don’t necessarily need it to do that, you can still use old dice, you can still use other things, but it’s sort of like, well, these things are available now and they’re part of the children’s world so let’s see what they can do, you know. And the first stage of apps have been these simulation apps, the next step is sort of like these ideas, there’s a lot of ones, there’s one called PhotoComic, there’s one called Strip Design, there’s one called Make Believe Comix, and they allow you to play around with images and photos and things that you’ve taken in the world and turn them into stories. So I’ve done a fair bit of work in some primary schools, taking kids through, ‘Well let’s create a story of what’s happening in class at the moment,’ so it means that it engages them in these – not just literacy but digital media literacy, they’re taking photos, they’re thinking about what the image looks like, they might have three images and you support them to think about which image they choose. So they get this idea that whenever they open a book or a magazine, you know, ‘Oh someone’s made a decision about what photo actually goes in that magazine’…
Daniel: …not just ‘Where did that come from?’ – ‘That’s obviously the picture that goes with that story’.
Tony: Oh, they’ll be writing media critiques by Year 3 at this rate.
Daniel: That’s it, completely.
Tony: So in terms of – you mentioned last time that, with the very young kids, often they’re not quite ready for the busy-ness of story books that do much more than being story books – but certainly by the 5 to 8 age group, I guess kids really do want a bit more in the app than they might get from the book, and are there ebooks that are really delivering on this front?
Daniel: Yeah, there’s some really, there’s some really good ones – I think it’s Megapops? Yeah it is, I’m just having a quick look at it now, but they’ve got a series of Millie apps which are fantastic little apps that actually follow the…
[App music starts up]
Daniel: …and you can hear that probably now in the background…
Tony: Yeah, that’s Millie, I gather?
Daniel: …that’s Millie and the lost key. The beauty of it is they’ve combined real life photographs of this dog Millie but they’ve also simultaneously animated Millie, so it’s a whimsical story because it looks like it’s based in the real world and it is, the photos are just of Millie hanging out in the park and all the rest of it, but they happen to put Millie into a cardboard aeroplane that then the children can actually fly around.
Daniel: So it actually creates this sort of surreal aspect, or magical realism kind of aspect to the book, which is the kind of fun thing you want to do with the device, you know, because it allows for that kind of stuff, so they’re really good.
For older readers too there’s a really good bunch of apps that I think are beautiful. So for people interested in visual storybooks that also have text, that’s by Auryn, that’s A-U-R-Y-N, and they’ve got this technique which makes a lot of their drawings and stuff in the story books they write look like watercolours…
Daniel: …and it softens the whole screen and it makes them a really interesting one. But I talked a little bit before when we talked about the younger children, about the idea of traditional books turning into digital stories or digital books, or the idea of books that are being written purposefully for the screen itself, that have never existed before.
Daniel: There’s also ones who I say are people that are drawing on television or movies as their way in, so it’s sort of coming at it from another angle in terms of, well we can tell stories in those formats, what did they look like on a screen? And there’s one that are above the rest, a bunch of guys that used to work at Pixar, so Moonbot Studios they’re called. People who have iPad devices – and these guys are at the moment solely sort of in that iPad space – they’ve done, what is it called, The fabulous books of Mr Morris Lessmore…
Daniel: …which I think actually won an Oscar a couple of years ago for Best Short Animation, but they’ve also turned it into a really beautiful animated digital story, which again leverages off all of those themes of books and those sorts of things. And they’ve recently done another one called the Numberlys which is sort of aimed at possibly the younger age group at the end of – so probably maybe sort of crossing over our sort of age brackets, it’s maybe 4 to 6 and it has a strange thing in the middle where it suddenly has sort of a range of number games in the middle of it. It’s basically based its aesthetic, for film buffs, on Metropolis…
Tony: Oh really.
Daniel: …and visually those apps are very respectful of younger children and of your 5 to 8s because of the quality of what they’ve produced.
Tony: And what about traditional books that have gone over, is there anything – you mentioned Animalia I think last time as one that offers a lot in its digital form – are there others that you think have translated well? I know I’ve got a few of the Dr Seuss’s, I’ve got a Beatrix Potter that’s pretty good…
Daniel: Well, the value of what the Dr Seuss’s Oceanhouse Media are doing – and it’s probably worth thinking for some of those sort of 5 to 8s who are beginning to learn to read, they’ve done a brilliant job – one, as a company they’ve secured the right to do all the Dr Seuss books and that sort suits the sort of geeky nature initially of the uptake of the devices, but the digital framework in which they now plug these books is really important. So the fact that you can read those books that, or be read to you – so digital books for those children now, you can either read them yourself or they can be read to you, but even if you read them yourself, they allow you this idea that you can touch a word and it tells you what the word is, which is quite extraordinary for the idea of a 6 or a 7-year-old to be a self-directed learner.
Daniel: And I know that in a lot of classrooms with teachers who are struggling to get parents, because parents are working all the time, to come in and do the reading groups, and a teacher can’t listen to every child read all of the time, or help them understand those words, that some of, not necessarily that the Dr Seuss apps are the ones that you would have, but the functionality which is almost becoming standardised across a lot of those books is good.
Daniel: The thing about the digital environment now is it’s just another place for the story to exist, and for children aged 5 to 8 particularly to discover stories and discover what they like.
'It creates a sort of surreal or magical realism aspect to the book, which is the kind of fun thing you want to do with the device.'
– Daniel Donahoo
About this recording
Pick up tips from literacy and technology commentator Daniel Donahoo as he reviews online literacy tools and apps for 5- to 8-year-olds.
This talk was part of the Talking Reading series, with presenter Tony Wilson.
Daniel Donahoo is an author, journalist and columnist, who also provides ideas consultancy and app development advice.