Learning Matters

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Recently one of us brought up an article on the Huffington Post (from 2013, which is a million years ago in the app world) that explored the phenomenon of children’s apps being made by parents. The article is interesting in its own right, but it also sparked an interesting discussion here at Night & Day Studios. Is being a parent enough to make a good children's app? Can people make good apps for kids if they don't have kids of their own?

Of course, we got started because our founder wanted to make an app for his daughter — that’s where Peekaboo Barn came from — but for many kids app producers, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

For example, Nat, our founder, is an educational game designer who already had an extensive background in interactive media for museums and classrooms when he created our first app. He did much of this professional work before he ever had kids of his own. Compared to many of our peers in the kids app business, we are a very small company, yet we are more than the classic "dude in a basement": we have a programmer, a writer, a creative director, a graphic designer, a manager, and an animator all in employ, while Nat runs the business stuff (besides some sound design and other countless duties). The skills and experience of our staff is invaluable in making apps, whether for kids or not.

On the other hand, parents are the quintessential experts when it comes to children’s media; ideally, they know what children want, what they want their child exposed to, and know the educational needs of kids better than anyone else. If nothing else, it would be quite difficult to make apps for kids without the input of these experts! I’d argue that one of the secrets of Night & Day Studios’ success is that we are parents, educators, and kids at heart. I think few of us would want our child’s education being mediated by groups with only profit as a motive, so it makes sense that parents take the helm.

It’s a complicated conversation, and we’d love to hear what you think at our Facebook page. Perhaps you can complicate our thinking further.

 

Favorite Things: BookCourt

Night & Day Studios' Sara Berliner shares one of her favorite things.

I adore my local bookstore. BookCourt is a neighborhood institution, serving Brooklyn for over 30 years. It's a place that makes me hopeful for the future of the printed word, of reading for edification and pleasure, of storytelling as a public and private and multi-splendored, and necessary, human activity. I go there for something specific and end up with a bag full of discoveries, the happiest wallet-opening of my week. 

Throughout childhood I visited my uncle's Foundry Bookstore in New Haven, CT. The Foundry was on the garden level of an old New England building along Whitney Avenue and they were booksellers. By that I mean Uncle Henry and his staff weren't just stocking shelves with the latest best sellers. They got to know their customers, they read voraciously, and they made pitch-perfect recommendations. They sold books. When chain stores opened and dented their business, they persevered for customers who relied on the Foundry to match them with experiences in a way no website's algorithm could replicate.

And so BookCourt. This is a family-run store that expanded in the middle of a recession, has a huge roster of readings and events, and seems more successful than ever, even with a two-story corporate bookstore down the street. I'm lucky to live in a city that can sustain such an enterprise. And I'm honored by their support of customers' projects. Seeing our Peekaboo Barn board book in the front window is a thrill.

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#FF Follow @sagosagotoys

Our chief dreamer, Nat Sims, launches our kick-off to #followfridays.

Not only do we love Sago Sago's work on Forest Flyer and Bug Builder, they are a wonderful company to follow on Twitter. They are generous in sharing where they get their inspiration, how they work, and their insights into the industry. They just released a charming app called Sago Mini Friends that my six-year-old daughter has been enjoying (and she's a harsh critic). Thank you Sago and keep up the good work! #followfriday @sagosagotoys #sagomini

 Follow Sago Sago on Twitter.

Favorite Things: Santa Cruz Skateboard

Our Graphic Designer, Alan Wasem shares one of his favorite things:

One of my favorite things is my skateboard; there have been many throughout the years but this is the one true gem. This Santa Cruz board comes in left or right foot, and has a great shape and graphic. Skateboarding is one of my favorite things because it makes you push your own limits—there are no coaches or teammates depending on you. It is not structured like traditional sports, where there are set practices and game times; once you have the board it is free, where ever and when ever, and it begs you to learn more, to make it unique and personal.

I love how there is no right or wrong way to do it, it can be sport, exercise or just a mode of transportation. It makes you examine the world in a different way, always looking around each corner for a new spot. Skateboarding helps you see the world as a playground, and with a little imagination you can re-purpose just about anything into a fun new obstacle or game.

 

 

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Favorite Things: RoboRally

Night & Day Studios’ founder Nat Sims on RoboRally:

I'm a dedicated fan and backer of Kickstarter. One of the earlier projects I backed was the Robot Turtles boardgame by Dan Shapiro, which hopes to teach programming concepts to kids. (A ton of other people backed it too and it helped inspired the current boardgame explosion on Kickstarter.)

Robot Turtles is something of a knockoff of the classic RoboRally by Richard Garfield (a fellow D&D fan who later created Magic: the Gathering). It replaces the sort of 70s geek-programmer vibe of RoboRally with a quirky, faux-anime feel. More importantly, the board is not whizzing around in 20 different directions, threatening a pit or a flamethrower, so there is more time to think.

My six-year-old daughter and I finally played Robot Turtles this summer, though I gave it to her last Christmas. The funny thing is, in that short time I think she got a little too old. She jumped through all the conceptual challenges (the concept of programming steps; the concept that the steps are the only instructions the robot turtle will follow, for good or ill; and even the concept of a subroutine).

Within an hour or so, we had kind of played through the game. I was tempted to have her make the jump to RoboRally right then, but it seemed too geeky and violent for her, and the conveyor belts and traps, which are intended to confuse grownups for comedic effect, kind of squashed the intellectual fun of programming the robots.

In short, we discovered a gap where, I believe, a new game could fit in. A boardgame, to better preserve the conversational and social aspects of play, but one that allowed a little more programming language to shine through, without RoboRally's pure melee chaos.

For now, we'll draft up our suggested home-rule add-ons for Robot Turtles, but I think a lot more could be done in this area. I look forward to seeing the next great programming boardgame.

Robot Turtles is on Amazon.

Wikipedia offers more on RoboRally.

Favorite Things: Ukulele

For our first entry in the list of Favorite Kids' Things, our writer and curriculum designer Chris shares his favorite toy:

Every December my partner and I go shopping for toys to donate to a local Christmas drive. It’s a tradition of ours, and besides the fun of sharing, it provides an honest excuse to hang out in a toy store for a while. We buy a few different things at Finnegen’s (a wonderful kid’s store here in Portland), but whatever else I choose I always end up giving a small ukulele. I have one of my own in the office, and when I feel frustrated or stuck, I pick it up and play a few chords even though I’m not all that good. When I do, I like to think that somewhere in town, there are a few kids doing the same thing: playing their songs and making a happy sound.