Quality Over Quantity

Children’s literacy is taking center stage in the media today (yay!) since yesterday’s White House conference on bridging the word gap.

The conference focused on the latest findings from a study lead by the wonderful Kathy Hirsch-Pasek, which found that among low-income 2-year-olds, quality interactions with words were a better predictor of language skills than quantity of words. You can read more about the study in this article from the Times.

The main question this raises is how can we help kids and their loved ones have “quality interactions” with words.  And for us at Kindoma, how we can tap into the power of technology to help long-distance loved ones such as grandparents share the load of such  interactions.

The study’s author defines quality interactions as the use of shared symbols (“Look, a dog!”); rituals (“Want a bottle after your bath?”); and conversational fluency (“Yes, that is a bus!”).

Books provide a lovely venue to have such interactions.  Here are a few suggestions for engaging your child in quality interactions around books:

  • Leave words out and get children to fill in the word: “This pig built a house out of __”
  • Get children to recount what has happened in the story: “Can you tell me what happened to the three little pigs?”
  • Point to illustrations and ask about them: “Tell me what’s happening on this page”
  • Ask questions that start with what, when, where and why: “What material is this pig using to build this house?”
  • Help kids relate stories to their own lives: “Remember when we went to the farm and saw a pig? What other animals did we see?”

We really hope that Kindoma Storytime is key tool in promoting quality interactions around words!

Introducing Story Bug, our first “powered by Kindoma” app!

We are thrilled to introduce the very first “powered by Kindoma” app with our wonderful partners at Cricket Media. The new app, Story Bug, features Cricket’s beloved children’s publications, and is powered by Kindoma’s award-winning remote reading technology.

Users of the Story Bug app see and hear each other via video chat while viewing the same digital book. A “shadow hand” shows where your counterpart is pointing, so grown-ups can challenge their young readers to point to items on the page, and children can ask questions about what they see and hear.

At Kindoma, we all personally remember reading Cricket’s magazines when we were kids. When we first partnered with the educational media company to get their content up on Storytime, it quickly became clear that we both shared a deep value for enabling and encouraging young children and their loved ones to connect around quality educational content.

This deepened partnership combines archives of Cricket’s high-quality educational content with our innovative shared reading technology to help children and their loved ones share the experience of reading educational content, whether they are cuddled together on a couch, across the town, or around the world.

Story Bug is the second product in Kindoma’s evolving ecosystem of communications apps developed specifically for young children and their loved ones.

The Story Bug App is available for free from the App Store on the iPhone or iPad.

Read the full press release.

Rising to a design challenge

At Kindoma, we create apps for kids that connect families when they are apart. When tackling design for our first product, the iPad seemed like the perfect device. The tablet’s large screen is ideal for little fingers, it has a forward facing camera that allows for video-chat, and ownership amongst young families is on the rise. Storytime for the iPad was born.

Since launching last March at Bologna Bookfair, our focus has been on developing the concept. Do families want to read together from afar? The good news is that they do. With no marketing budget, we’ve had almost 50K downloads, and thanks to our recent holiday feature in the App Store (thank you, Apple!) downloads are now averaging about 1k/day. What we are most proud of, however, is the engagement. Calls on our system are averaging about 20 minutes; much longer than a young child will typically engage in traditional call or video-chat. Proof of concept – check!

But in the last month or so, we have shifted focus. The word concept became less important, as the word impact started to bubble to the top. We were accepted into the Points of Light accelerator – a social impact incubator that supports seed stage social ventures that solve pressing social issues by engaging people. They have been pushing us on what defines social impact, and maximizing the number of families reached has to be part of that. Furthermore, as we actively seek our first round of funding, investors are stressing the need to maximize market size.

According to Common Sense Media’s most recent report, 40% of children have access to a tablet, but when you add smartphones to the mix access increases to 75%. Furthermore, when it comes to reaching the kids most in need, over half of lower-income families havOwnership Zero to Eighte access to smartphones (51%), while tablet ownership is just 20% among the same group. Considering the Kindoma experience requires not one but two devices, it became clear that we needed to expand Storytime to the iPhone.

I’ve often advocated that you can’t design for a large screen and then put it on a phone and expect it to work, and for no product is this truer than ours. How do you combine two video-chat windows, two shadow-hands, and a children’s book on one small screen? You don’t.

We removed one video-chat window (the user can’t see herself), made the other one small and moveable, and hid the menu. We designed it under the hypothesis that in two-device families, the child will be on the larger screen, but we needed to be cognizant that many children will be using the iPhone version as well. Admittedly, it works better with some books than others, but after much iteration and testing, Kindoma Storytime for the iPhone is live!

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We are excited to finally have an iPhone version of Storytime. It was a design challenge to make it work on a smaller screen, but was imperative in fulfilling our mission of connecting families who live apart. We rose to the challenge, and are pleased with the result.

That being said, the beauty of this market is that we can quickly respond to feedback, and we would really and truly value yours. Please take the time to download Storytime, and share your thoughts. We welcome your feedback. Happy reading!

Kindoma launches our premium catalogue, featuring over 100 books for families to read together!

We are thrilled to announce the launch of our premium catalogue! Now, families are able to select from a growing library of over 100 children’s books, giving them much greater choice in what they read together.

Our mission to connect families that live apart over shared reading experiences relies on both great technology and great content. Giving children and families the chance to connect over beloved tales such as Humpty Dumpty and Old MacDonald, as well as universal themes like letters, numbers and emotions will strengthen the family connections and conversations that we hope to facilitate.

You can read our official press release here. Going forward, we have exciting plans to continue to grow our library, so keep watching for great new books to be added every month!

Kindoma welcomes Carly Shuler to it’s founding team

I’m excited to announce that Carly Shuler is joining Kindoma as a new co-founder. Although Carly is just now joining as an official member of the Kindoma team, she has long been involved in the development of the connected reading ideas as part of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop during the early collaboration between Nokia and Sesame (see From Family Story Play to Kindoma Storytime).  Carly will help accelerate our mission of connecting families through products that promote early childhood learning. Carly is a recognized thought leader in the space promoting early childhood learning through technology; she has authored a number of renowned reports, including D is for Digital, the iLearn Series and The ABC’s of Kids & e-Reading, and given TED talks on the subject. Carly also brings business and marketing expertise from her former role as Brand Manager at Spin Master.  I’m looking forward to what we will accomplish together.

Grandparent involvement promotes well-being in children

Grandparents play an important role in their grandchildrens’ lives.  In particular, two recent studies demonstrate the positive impact of grandparent involvement.

In the first study, lead by Prof Ann Buchanan from Oxford University, highlighted several benefits of grandparent involvement [1]:

In this study it was interesting that a grandparent’s active involvement was significantly associated with better adjusted adolescents. In particular, taking part in grandchildren’s hobbies and interests was significantly associated with fewer emotional and behaviour problems, and fewer peer problems. Grandparent involvement in schooling or education was also related to a lower maladjustment score and fewer conduct problems, and talking to grandparents about future plans was associated with fewer overall emotional and behavioural difficulties, and fewer peer problems.

A second study, lead by Jeremy Yorgason from Brigham Young University [2],  linked grandparent involvement to greater care and concern children demonstrated for people outside immediate family and friends.  Financial assistance from grandparents was also associated with higher engagement in the classroom for kids in single-parent homes.

Although benefits for both of these studies were demonstrated for adolescent children, the relationships should be forged at a much younger age.  For distant grandparents, the relationships cultivated through shared book reading in Kindoma Storytime lay the groundwork for continued involvement later in life.

[1] Buchanan, A (2008).  Involved Grandparents and Child Well-Being. 

[2] Yorgason, J. B., Padilla-Walker, L., Jackson, J. (2011) Nonresidential Grandparents’ Emotional and Financial Involvement in Relation to Early Adolescent Grandchild Outcomes.  Journal of Research on Adolescence.  (21) 3.  Blackwell Publishing, Inc.

Support Learning through Joint Media Engagement

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In the late 1960’s, Sesame Street pioneered the idea of coviewing by designing television programming to be enjoyed by both children and parents together. Since then, research has validated this approach by demonstrating learning benefits for children that coview television media with their parents [1]. More recently, research on joint media engagement has broadened our understanding of the benefits of joint attention and meaning-making amongst families to encompass more of the modern media landscape (for an overview see: [2]).

Unfortunately, many families consider tablets and mobile devices to be personal devices and are not using them for coviewing. A 2011 report by PlayScience found that a majority of parents felt that the mobile devices “helped teach new things” to their kids, but 26% were concerned that it “isolates family members” [3].  At Kindoma, we are turning this around by taking advantage of the fact that these devices are communication devices. Kindoma Storytime enables a new form of joint media engagement across distances by combining videochat with books.

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What children learn from media depends as much on the context in which they are consumed and with whom they are consumed, as the actual content of the media. Children need family support for sense-making and learning. We built Kindoma Storytime to bring families together in support of children’s learning.

[1] Reiser, R. A., Tessmer, M. A., & Phelps, P. C. (1984). Adult–child interaction in children’s learning from Sesame Street. Educational Technology Research & Development, 32(4), 217-223

[2] Takeuchi, L., & Stevens, R. (2011). The New Coviewing: Designing for learning through joint media engagement. In New York, NY: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

[3] Playscience. (2011) Mobile Playgrounds: Kids, Families and Mobile Play.

Get the most out of your Kindoma Storytime sessions using dialogic reading techniques

Educational research demonstrates that the more children talk about a book during the reading experience, the better their vocabulary development.  Russ Whitehurst and his colleagues at The Stony Book Reading and Language Project have pioneered a method of reading with preschoolers known as dialogic reading.  Dialogic reading is a method designed to get children to talk more during book reading sessions.  At a high level, the technique involves prompting the child with questions, and then building upon their responses by rephrasing and adding information.  Each time you read the same book using dialogic reading, the children should be doing more and more of the storytelling.

The key to effective dialogic reading is how to prompt children to say things.  Whitehurst and colleagues have identified five types of prompts, represented by the acronym CROWD.   Here is an explanation of each type of prompt including ideas of how to leverage them inside Kindoma Storytime.

  • Completion prompts:  These prompts use the classic ‘fill-in-the-blank’ mechanic.  Parents leave words out and get children to fill in the word.  For example, “This is a cat, he has a ____”, letting the child fill in the blank hat. These prompts help children grasp the structure of language.  In Kindoma Storytime, you can also point to the image of the hat to help children identify the matching word.
  • Recall prompts:  These prompts get children to recount what has happened in the story.  For example, “Can you tell me what happened to the three little pigs.”  Recall prompts help children grasp story plot and event sequencing.
  • Open-ended prompts:  In books with rich illustrations, you may ask a child “Tell me what’s happening on this page.”  Model using the pointing finger for the child and encourage the child to point to things as they are discussing them.  These prompts help promote expressive fluency and attention to detail.
  • Wh- prompts: Asking kids questions that start with what, when, where, why around illustrations helps to develop a child’s vocabulary.  For example, “What material is this pig using to build his house?”  while pointing at the house.
  • Distancing prompts: These prompts help relate images and words in the stories to their own lives.  While pointing to an image of an alligator, say “Remember when we went to the zoo and saw alligators?  What other animals did we see?”

Lots of research demonstrates that dialogic reading works!  As Russ Whitehurst says himself:

“Children who have been read to dialogically are substantially ahead of children who have been read to traditionally on tests of language development. Children can jump ahead by several months in just a few weeks of dialogic reading. We have found these effects with hundreds of children in areas as geographically different as New York, Tennessee, and Mexico, in settings as varied as homes, preschools, and daycare centers, and with children from economic backgrounds ranging from poverty to affluence.”

We hope these tips improve your Storytime!  Remember to have fun and follow your child’s interests to get them talking.

Support children’s learning by talking with them over a book

It is intuitive that children learn from their parents and grandparents, but it’s easy to underestimate how much.  We at Kindoma strongly believe in the power of combining families and books to promote childrens’ learning.

Talking to your child helps prepare them for school:

Almost two decades ago, in 1995, Hart & Risley published the results of a landmark study [1] that linked success in school at age nine to the amount of talk they hear from birth to age three.  The actual difference in the amount of words children hear is astonishing; successful children heard on average 8 million more words per year than their struggling peers, leading to what was termed the “30 million word gap” by the time they turn four.

Distance makes talking even harder:

To make matters worse, many families today live apart. In the US alone, 1 in 3 children live apart from one biological parent.  Even families that live together can be separated because of their parent’s work, whether they are on a military deployment or just frequent business trips.  Grandparents also want to be involved in their grandchildren’s lives, but around half of them live more than 200 miles away.

Our own research shows that long-distance families are struggling to find ways to communicate with the children that they love [2,3].  It’s difficult to maintain a conversation over the phone or videochat with children under the age of 7.   There are several different types of challenges that often lead to communication breakdowns over the phone.

  • Cognitive challenges: Children’s difficulty with perspective taking leads to a class of problems such as gesturing to things unseen by the other side.
  • Social challenges: Young children haven’t mastered the art of conversation.  They aren’t yet good storytellers, and they haven’t mastered turn-taking or asking questions.  Even children who are normally talkative face-to-face are often reported to digress to just “yes” and “no” responses over the phone.
  • Attentional / Motivational challenges: Children have difficulty staying engaged and sitting still for a long time.  They don’t feel connected to the remote party, and as a result they view talking with their family on the phone as a chore.

Videochat is an improvement over the phone because you can show rather than tell, and use gesture instead of words.  However, videochat is still oriented towards conversation. Most children run away from the videochat after a few minutes. When you are with a child you typically don’t try to engage them with conversation, instead you find a way to play with them!

Why Kindoma Storytime works:

We at Kindoma have reimagined videochat to be more engaging, playful, and fun using books.  Books give families something to do together, and something to talk about, leading to much longer and richer interactions with their children.  Book reading is familiar to both the young and old, and it resembles what families already do when they are physically together.

So show your love by reading a book with your child using Kindoma Storytime!  Reading with them today will help them be better prepared for school later.

References:

[1] Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Brookes Publishing Company, Inc., Baltimore, MD.

[2] Ames, M., Go, J., Kaye, J. “J.”, & Spasojevic, M. (2010). Making Love in the Network Closet: The Benefits and Work of Home Videochat. CSCW  ’10: Proceedings of the 2010 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. pp 145–154. doi:10.1145/1718918.1718946

[3] Ballagas, R., Kaye, J., Ames, M., Go, J., & Raffle, H. (2009). Family Communication: Phone Conversations with Children. Proc. Interaction Design for Children. pp 3-6. ACM. doi: 10.1145/1551788.1551874

From Family Story Play to Kindoma Storytime

Since our announcement of the Kindoma Storytime app for iPad last Monday, many people have asked us how Kindoma Storytime came to be. Our road to this point has been an interesting one – we have pursued this path for almost 5 years, initially at the Nokia Research Center in Palo Alto, where we started the Family Communication research.

How do families with young children keep in touch?

We asked this question during a broad study of families and their use of tech, carried out in the summer of 2008.  In home visits, we observed many difficulties of communicating remotely with young kids. Most of the families were using phone for communication and a few were adopting Skype, too. But these interactions were usually brief since kids didn’t have the conversational skills, nor were they interested in chitchat!

Video was an improvement over phone calls since kids were able to show things and invent new practices, such “skype kisses” (kissing the camera). Seeing these intimate family moments, we asked ourselves: how can we reimagine video chat for families in a way that supports co-operative play and learning, while also focusing on building relationships?

Family Story Play

In parallel with our research on families and communication, we struck up a collaboration with the Sesame Workshop and their research group at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. We found so much in common: Sesame has pioneered ideas around Joint Media Engagement (JME), the notion that children learn more when they consume educational media with adults in their lives, by designing their shows to be enjoyed by both young and old together. We brought to the table the technology expertise to help extend these ideas to family interactions at a distance.

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Our first prototype, Family Story Play, combined physical books, video chat and kids favorite friend Elmo. This system allowed grandparents to read physical books to their long-distance grandchildren. Interestingly, Elmo didn’t read the story, but listened intently to the reader modeling an interest in reading for the children.  Elmo would also ask questions about each page, modeling dialogic reading techniques for the reader, and encouraging children to talk about the book.  Research on dialogic reading demonstrates that children learn more by talking about a book during the reading experience. Family Story Play allowed us to rediscover the natural links between family communication and children’s learning.

While our research prototype was not easy to scale, we extracted important lessons from this work, in particular how to create shared activities at a distance and how to engage both kids and adults.

Story Visit

The Story Visit web service was the next in the iterative evolution of our ideas. To make content coordination on both sides easier, we used ebooks, instead of physical books. In the summer of 2010 we were able to deploy the system and study it “in the wild”. We observed families using our service in their homes. We found that these connected book reading session were significantly longer than typical video chat sessions and it was clear to us that the kids were enjoying them, too.

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Over the next few years, we transferred these ideas into a set of products, such as Rich Reading apps for Symbian and Windows 7 phones and supported important educational initiatives, such as Read For the Record 2011 event with Pearson Foundation. We also continued the research on prototypes for book reading: People in Books suggests a new ways of using depth camera for immersive videochat.  A full list of our projects can be found at connectedreading.com.

Kindoma: A place for families

Last year, with the support of our former employer, we started Kindoma. The name of our company comes from two German words: kind = child and oma = grandma. The name Kindoma is also designed to sound like ‘kingdom’, a magical place where families can be together even when they are apart.

We want Kindoma to be a communication hub for families. As technology rapidly improves, we know that there is a space to reimagine inter-generational communication and make it more playful, educational and meaningful. Our first product, Kindoma Storytime is only the next step on this journey to improve children’s engagement with their family.