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Creating a Children’s Product That is “Magic”

I just got back from a great three day “Dust or Magic” conference run by Warren Buckleitner for people who create children’s technology products. (The title is a quote from a 17th century philosopher named Matsuo Basho: “An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it.”) Guided by Warren, about 65 of us viewed products, learned from each other, and discussed best practices to create “magic” products and learning games that use technology to improve children’s lives.

And yes, we ALL agreed that children should spend most of their time playing with other children and adults, using real things, and going outside! And we also agreed that many — perhaps the majority? — of technology toys and online media are “dust”. But, and this is an important but, many products use technology in ways that open up new opportunities for children, and let them learn and explore and play in wonderful new ways. These are the products that are “magic”!

What Makes Up a Good Children’s Learning Product?

How can we make interactive media products — like DreamBox — “magic”? Here are some of the key ideas I walked away with:

  1. Let the child be the actor. Whenever possible, give the child control of what to do and create. Examples of this range from providing multiple choices for what to do next, to waiting for the child to indicate when its time to move ahead.
  2. Keep it simple. ‘Nuf said.
  3. Make it as open-ended as possible. Just as a blank piece of paper or a box of plain LEGOS inspires open-ended imaginative and creative play, make games that use technology as yet another open-ended tool. For example, in the world of math learning, we can create virtual manipulatives that children use and move to build numbers.
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