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.