May 26, 2011

Word Play


With GoodieWords, NYC Dad Adam Gittlin Taps Into Preschool Curiosity With Digital Magic

By Ally Hickson


When it comes to teaching a toddler new vocabulary, most
parents rely on games, flashcards, board books and their own know-how. But
sometimes that’s not enough. Sure, teaching a three year old the meaning of
“hand” is simple. Now, dig a little deeper, and try explaining what a
fingerprint is. Not so easy, right?

Last April, Adam Gittlin discovered this while putting his
then two-and-a-half year-old son to bed. The lights were low; his son enjoyed
milk while dad sang, but stopped sipping to query, “What’s a fingerprint?” And
Gittlin had no idea how to illustrate the concept.

“It was the kind of thing that we take for granted as
adults,” says Gittlin.

As his son quickly entered what he describes as a “what is
this-what is that-what is everything” phase, Gittlin found more and more words
his son didn’t understand, like “sweat” and “seed.” “I couldn’t in a real,
concise way, explain what these more difficult words and concepts were.”

Prior to the App, Gittlin had played around with the idea of
making a children’s book and a formula to explain words to preschool children.
But that changed during a business trip last April when Gittlin was introduced
to the iPad. Suddenly, everything clicked and the idea for the GoodieWords App
manifested.

GoodieWords is an initially free application for the iPad,
iPhone and iPod Touch. It combines narratives, music, sound effects, animation,
games and characters to teach preschoolers and toddlers the meanings of words.
The first download comes with three words (fingerprint, rainbow and balance)
and three activities for your child. After that, an additional “GoodiePack”
with new words like “shadow” and “electricity” is $1.99.

“The beauty of this technology – whereas a book stops [with
the definition] – is that you can then have that definition or explanation
transform into an interactive activity that further explains how that word
lives in our real world,” elaborates Gittlin.

The app is all about multisensory learning. And to be sure
that the educational epicenter was pitch perfect, Gittlin wrangled a team of
top consultants: Brigid Barron, an Associate Professor of Education at Stanford
University, and Michael Petillo, first grade teacher and learning consultant at
The Dalton School in New York City for the last decade. Combined with the
digital creative agency Commercial Pop, The GoodieWorld team has so far
developed their hit application and four additional GoodiePacks for GoodieWords,
all with different activities to engage children.

Rather than simply showing a fingerprint, GoodieWords allows
users to draw shapes with colorful fingerprints on their iPad while characters
explain that no two people share the same print. In “balance,” a favorite of
Gittlin’s son, children have to balance ice cream scoops by tilting their Apple
product of choice.

And the commitment is paying off. GoodieWords was nominated
for a Webby Award for the Tablet Games category, a huge honor in the tech world.

In the weeks ahead, more GoodieWords will be available. New
products like GoodieShapes and GoodieLetters, both in development, are due out
in a few months. The team is also in talks to license out the rights in other
languages.

Looking at the product two-fold, Gittlin recognizes that
GoodieWords isn’t just a lesson in vocabulary, but it further teaches kids how
to use high-tech gadgets that they’ll encounter down the road. But at home,
books are still “a big priority” with Gittlin’s son, who he describes as “very
verbal.”

The Gittlin family loves their Upper West Side
neighborhood. Treks through Riverside
and Central Park or a visit to The Museum of Natural
History on a rainy day are favorite New York
excursions. “I just think the cultural aspect of New York
City makes it worthwhile,” says Gittlin. In his
opinion, New York kids have the
advantage and “become a little bit worldlier, a little bit earlier on.”

It is his belief in challenging children early on, however
simple, which propels GoodieWorld towards developing new engaging material. As
Gittlin says, “I’m not really interested in games, I’m interested in learning
made fun.”

For more information on GoodieWords, visit goodiewords.com.

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