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A Recipe for Cooking Up a Fun and Furry Children’s App

Karen Halpenny is a Senior Editor, Publishing & Senior Manager, Digital Publishing at Sesame Workshop.

David Kleeman, President of the American Center for Children and Media and PlayVangelist at PlayCollective, challenged content creators to make an “ingredients” list for their educational media. Challenge accepted!

App Name: Peekaboo Sesame Street

Goals:

  1. Design an app for the youngest segment of our audience to engage them with our characters in an age-appropriate interactive way.
  2. Introduce toddlers to the basics of how to use a tablet since we know they’re using these devices in increasing numbers.
  3. Integrate some fun into learning focused on science curriculum (prediction and cause & effect).

Approximate time required: 6 months

Yield: 1 app 

Ingredients:

2 companies dedicated to creating quality digital experiences for kids:

Night & Day Studios’ Peekaboo series of bestselling apps strikes a chord with the littlest learner—they’re simple and satisfying with just the right dose of interactivity. Sesame Workshop continues its mission to educate children through a mix of furry friends and technology. We think that makes for a match made in kid apps heaven!

2 researchers + 4 degrees:

From concept to wire frame to builds to release, the same minds that provide the show’s backbone of curriculum advise on all our apps, too. Based on hundreds of hands-on research studies, many with real kids and families, the Education & Research Group also makes recommendations about an array of “digital best practices,” including learning goals, user interface, and parent tips.

2 performers + 1 recording engineer:

With over 30 years of combined experience making and recording Muppet voices, spending time in the studio with these professionals is hardly a tough job. Even without the physical puppets, Eric Jacobson (who performs Bert and Super Grover) and Ryan Dillon (who performs Elmo) make you believe the characters are right there.

Performer Eric Jacobson

6 character voices + 1 audio archivist:

Digging through our audio archive of thousands of character clips led to one of the more enjoyable exercises: listening to longtime puppeteer Caroll Spinney joke around in the same recording session as both of his “alter egos”: Oscar and Big Bird.

1 Art Director:

How tall is the brownstone? Exactly what shape are Elmo’s fingers? The creative team helped us keep all the art on model while providing flexibility to make necessary adaptions to fit device screens.

2 legal minds:

When the producer (me) opines that this app would be so much better if it includes the iconic Sesame Street theme song, these kind folks work hard to make it happen.

2 analytics experts:

Measuring the whats, hows, and whens of audience usage is a new emphasis for all Sesame Street apps because being able to track how users interact with apps means we can improve and update accordingly.

3 QA wizards:

Without wands or potions or spells, teams of testers at both companies tested and tested on every single device we could think of, trying to break the app before a consumer does. And then they did it all over again…and again.

1 million phone calls and emails between Sesame Workshop in Manhattan and Night & Day Studios in Portland, Oregon. OK, perhaps I’m slightly exaggerating…

Directions

Mix everything together and start collaborating. Add in a heaping cup of careful thought about each character and what objects define him or her – perhaps a pedestrian object that brings unexpected amounts of pleasure, like a paper clip chain. Sprinkle with “expressive sounds,” which seem like funny or sweet touches but which are actually very deliberate clues to help children with prediction skills. Sift art and sound and text together. Bake. Make sure not to take out of the development oven too soon. Watch the minutes go by, waiting for others to taste and share. Hope there’s a clamor for seconds!

So far so good! Peekaboo Sesame Street rose to #1 in the Apple App Store in less than 24 hours!

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