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.

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