Give a young child a couple of toys or a box of crayons and he or she is likely to play for hours, deeply engrossed in an imaginary world. In both art and dramatic play, children construct settings, create fictional characters, and act out fantastic storylines that would be the envy of many Hollywood scriptwriters. Yet, ask that same child to write out a story in a blank notebook or a word processor and you would be lucky to capture a fraction of the depth and splendor of his or her imagination. Play inspires and scaffolds the creative process from an early age, but there is a persistent gap between the origins of imaginative play (ages 4-5) and kids’ adoption of the formal discipline of creative writing (ages 8-10).
At Launchpad Toys, we’re using mobile devices like the iPad to bridge this gap between informal and formal learning, to harness the power of play to help children capture and share their ideas with other kids around the world. First designed at Stanford’s School of Education with help from Startl and Zeum: San Francisco's Children's Museum, Toontastic is a Creative Learning tool that blends Constructionist and Social Development theories to empower young children to create, learn, and share their ideas through play. Our Learning Goals are threefold:
- Empower young children to share their ideas and stories with friends and family by bridging the gap between formal writing and imaginative play.
- Introduce and guide key storytelling principles like Character, Setting, Story Arc, and Emotion to help structure kids’ creative writing.
- Promote cultural literacy through ToonTube: A Global Storytelling Network for Kids, by Kids.
Constructionism + Social Development Theories
Constructionist software aims to draw out a child’s implicit understanding of curricula and make it explicit through visual and physical representation so that the child may better "debug" and reconstruct his or her mental model. Toontastic draws out the emotive structure implicit within storytelling by using an explicit template for visually mapping story events and emotions while constructing one’s cartoon. This helps the child to create a more impactful, coherent, and ultimately educational story.
With Toontastic, our goal is to not only empower a new generation of storytellers, but to use storytelling as a bridge to cultural understanding amongst children around the world. As Vygotsky and other Social Development theorists suggest, children often learn more from social dialogues at a peer level than from formal adult instruction.
USC film professor Robert McKee proposes that a good story is much more than a simple narrative sequence – a good story is a carefully structured series of events that sweeps the audience through an undulating swing of emotions. To create a template for storytelling, one must scaffold both story events and emotive structure, which together make up the underlying spine of the story arc.
In Toontastic, the child builds a story one scene at a time. He or she starts by selecting a scene type (Setup, Conflict, Challenge, Climax, and Resolution) and then mixing and matching characters, settings, and actions to define the story event for that scene. The goal of this exercise is not to create a script per se, but to establish clear and succinct story events around which the emotive structure will turn. The story arc is then drawn by adjusting energy levels for each scene and by choosing appropriate emotional themes, thereby determining that scene’s background music.
For more about the Educational Frameworks behind Toontastic, we recommend taking a look at Andy's Grad-School Thesis from the Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction Conference 2010 as well as the books on this page.
While creative writing might not begin formally until ages seven or eight, children’s’ imaginations start to develop through creative play as young as 2 or 3-years-old. With Toontastic Jr, our learning goals are to:
- Empower young children as authors, actors, and producers of creative media, not just consumers.
- Develop collaboration and communication skills through shared storytelling with friends and family around the world on StoryShare.
- Introduce key storytelling concepts like Beginning, Middle, Ending, and Emotion while developing Oral Literacy through story narration.
- Inspire creative storytelling with "Story Starter" videos that spark the imagination.
A funny thing happens when we start to grow up… our “Stories” mature into “Messages” and our friends take center stage in our communications - edging out the pirates and princesses that once claimed lead billing in the tall tales of our childhood play.
According to the latest Pew Family Research Report, the average teenager sends 22,000 text messages a year. That's roughly 10 DAYS a year – more time than they spend on Facebook, on the phone, even talking to others face to face. That’s 10 DAYS of creative writing squandered on emoticons, LOL, and OMG.
With MonkeyGram, we’re bridging the gap between storytelling and messaging by enabling all you “kids at heart” out there to turn your photos into narrated cartoons, to craft and share your creative writing as messages, and to share your stories with friends and family via all the tools you already use today: Facebook, Twitter, email, and text messaging. With MonkeyGram, we’re aiming to TAKE BACK those 10 days and to help infuse your stories with a little bit of humor, a little playfulness, and a whole lot of that creative spark inside all of us.