It is so easy to spot little kids playing games on smartphones nowadays. My own son learned early to interact with my iPad (which is now his) first using his palm before quickly moving on to use his little fingers. There was something attracting him to that screen. This recent phenomenon inspired me to investigate what kinds of educational skills technology can stimulate in preschool children.

This picture shows a child playing with a mobile device.

The initial idea was to develop an application that encourages the practice of self-regulation skills using devices most preschool children already have access to. After exploring the academic literature, my research group realized that self-regulation is crucial for young kids because it can impact their future academic success. We were inspired by the Tools of the Mind curriculum and we decided to explore make-believe play during 11 participatory design sessions with five 3 to 4 year-old children.

We iteratively developed many prototypes with this group of children, generating design requirements for StoryCarnival. In the final design of the app, children first watch stories with animal characters of the same importance (no protagonist) collaborating with each other to solve a problem. Then, a caregiver uses a character selector to support children taking turns while picking the characters they will play as. Finally, children choose physical props with generic shapes (such as squares, spheres, triangles, etc.) that will be used to represent objects in the story.

This picture shows different examples of props children can use during play, such as geometric shapes and hats.

After these steps, children play with their peers without the device. During play, adults can prompt new ideas, children can switch their roles and reimagine the objects representations if they feel the need. Eventually, children will need less support and make use of imaginary props.

We further tested the app and developed new stories with another group of nine preschool children throughout 24 participatory design sessions. The current version of the prototype looks like this:

Here is a video showcasing one of the stories we created for StoryCarnival:

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Luiza Pantoja © 2019