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REVIEW: Kidthing.com

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Last month, I read about a new e book program for kids called Kidthing.com. Kidthing is based on Adobe flash and is one part audio book and one part video. It really harnesses the ability of a computer to translate into a learning tool for young children.

During its beta period, users could access Horton Hears a Who for free. The book is scanned in and then animated. A voice reads

the words on the pages, just like a parent would read a book to a child. For me, it’s a great alternative to television. My 4 year old daughter just loves it and between her father and I reading it to her and her listening to the narrator on the computer, she’s managed to memorize nearly the whole book.

The animations are fairly simplistic. In Horton, the animation often is simply Horton blinking his eyes or the clover moving slightly. But even the slightest movement can bring the page alive. The narrator also is skilled and connects well to my child.

The software for Kidthing is free and there are a few free interactive games, coloring sheets and, of course, Horton Hears a Who. Other books can be purchased for a reasonable price (most are around $5.00). The books or games are stored on your computer, but are not transferable due to the digital rights management scheme imposed. The goal is to allow up to 5 computers to access the same purchases and allow the purchases to be shared across a local computer network. Currently, there are Windows XP and Vista versions available with a Mac version coming soon.

Kidthing is engineered so that you can always redownload your content. By the end of the summer, there is supposed to be a tool that will allow you to store any media such as pictures or movies of your own and then you’ll be able to view those through the Kidthing player. There is a feature on Kidthing, like a playlist, where you can customize a video sequence of pictures, books, or movies. Thus, if you need twenty minutes of downtime, you can put together a playlist of pictures, a game and a book for your child and this combination will run automatically.

The future will also bring personalized books where you can add a picture of your child or his or her name so that your child can be inserted, digitally, into a book. While Kidthing couldn’t share specifics, they did tell me that they have deals with movie, games, animation studios; publishers; international publishers; and record companies to provide top notch content. Kidthing felt it vital for children to be free from advertising so there will be no advertising. Instead it hopes to rely on people’s willingness to purchase good content.

I asked about a mobile platform such as an iPhone or similar handheld device. Kidthing was open to looking at those options but I got the sense that was far, far down the road.

There was also some suggestion of a social networking aspect to Kidthing and that concerned me a bit. I was told that this was controlled by the parental tools feature and was more a social recommendation platform that would allow you to connect to families with similarly aged children all over the country.

In all, I’m very happy with Kidthing.com right now. I’ve recommended it to more than one person because I think it does provide a certain type of content not available anywhere else. While I am not in love with the DRM, I am willing to forego portability because of the valuable content. My daughter simply loves these animated audio books and therefore I do too.

Suggestions for improvement:

  • The program requires you to signin everytime it starts up. I would like to eliminate that.
  • There is no pause button. There are three buttons: Back, Stop, and Forward. My daughter has had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the book and we would have to page backward or forward because there is no pause feature.
  • Instructions on what happens when you purchase a book. Right now when you purchase a book, there is no instruction to tell you where to find the book or when you’ll be able to access it. What actually happens is that the book downloads to your computer and you can find all your purchases in the right sidebar.
  • Full screen option.   I would like for the book to take up the full screen of a computer instead of having the purchase bar always visible.
  • More content. The pickings are slim right now. I think she’s ready to memorize a different Seuss story.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

16 Comments

  1. Libby
    Apr 27, 2008 @ 09:26:50

    Jane, thank you so much for reviewing this! I just downloaded it on my laptop to see if it would be something my kiddos would enjoy, and I think I’m in love :) The appearance is so clean-looking, which I think is so much better than the flashy graphics I’m used to seeing on kids’ game sites.

    Did you have any problems registering for the store the first time? I don’t know if it’s my firewall hard at work, but I can’t get a connection to their servers.

    Anyway, thanks again, Jane! I’m sure my kids are going to have a great time with this once I get it figured out :D

  2. Libby
    Apr 27, 2008 @ 09:27:58

    Ah, nevermind! I restarted the program and got right through this time :D

  3. Jewel
    Apr 27, 2008 @ 09:45:52

    Wow, great idea. I have an 18 mth old grandson who is fascinated by either my laptop or desktop computers. I sometimes run youtube for him as he likes the visual with music. I’m going to check this out and see how he does with it.

  4. (Jān)
    Apr 27, 2008 @ 12:20:25

    That sounds very cool for the most part. But the social networking sounds like a perfect opportunity for child predators to access lots of little kids, whether they allowed the interactions on their site or not. That part seems a very bad idea.

  5. Robin
    Apr 27, 2008 @ 13:00:34

    I have a Mac, so I can’t download this thing, but a friend of mine has it, and it is SO COOL. But she had significant loading issues, and luckily Kidthing was very good about solving the problems. So if you have problems downloading and purchasing, definitely contact support.

  6. Keishon
    Apr 27, 2008 @ 13:09:10

    I downloaded it and my nieces enjoyed it for the most part. There isn’t very many book choices and two of my nieces favorite Dr. Seuss stories are Green Eggs and Ham and Cat in the Hat which are coming soon. But it is VERY COOL. I like.

  7. KCfla
    Apr 27, 2008 @ 14:19:45

    Sounds really cool, and I liked what I saw. One question though-
    what age group would you say this was geared to? pre-school? Elementary age? Toddlers?
    I would rather not bother downloading the thing- only to find out the books available are too young for my kidlet ( she’s 8 and in 2nd grade btw!)
    Thanks in advance for any help!
    KC

  8. Keishon
    Apr 27, 2008 @ 15:03:06

    One book I bought my niece was for ages 4 to 8, it was Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss. Again, not many book choices right now but I would think they would have a range of books for kids of all ages.

  9. Chrissy
    Apr 27, 2008 @ 16:49:20

    OMG this is brilliant!

  10. Cathy in AK
    Apr 27, 2008 @ 19:56:45

    We purchased a few games for use on our PC that do something similar. They don’t have the social networking capability, of course (and I agree with that aspect of Kidthing being worrisome). The child can choose the “Read to Me” option or “Let Me Play” where the scenes in the story are interactive. If you click on some of the objects funny things happen or it takes you to a game within the book. My girls practically wore out the discs. They’re too old for the stories we have (a couple of Dr. Suess and an Arthur) and it sounds like Kidthing is as well, but it would have been a fun alternative for them. At 11 and 8, they read well beyond their grade level, and I’m sure these books helped at least a little.

  11. Audible Tries to Tap Into Youth Market | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Apr 30, 2008 @ 08:55:43

    […] I am a big fan of supplemental book sources such as kidthing, I don’t think that there is any replacement for a parent reading to his or […]

  12. boveymama
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 11:15:25

    I saw this site advertised in a parenting magazine and went to check it out. I purchased a game and book and was charged and i DID NOT recieve the merchandise. Everytime I would try and open Kidthing it would cancel and say ‘problem with program’ so I was charged and got no product and thier the number provided to me ended up being a law firm. I am very DISAPOINTED. I have a new computor w/ vista so I am up to date but they now have my money and my card number! Bummer! :(

  13. Jane
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 11:19:13

    I have never had a problem with the support at kidthing. Who did you contact?

  14. boveymama
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 11:22:46

    on your bank info there is always a phone number to contact company next to charge. I called that number since I didn’t see a ‘contact me’ area on kidthing and got a law firm like company. Do you know of another way to contact?

  15. Jane
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 11:38:32

    Yes, at the kidthing.com website, where you downloaded the software, there is a link at the top that says “support.” It gives email addresses and toll free numbers for both customer service and technical support.

  16. Shelley
    Sep 19, 2008 @ 13:45:58

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