'Constructing Childhood' and Tinybop's quiet apps

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Still from Tinybop’s ‘The Human Body’

At the start of this year, whilst wandering around the Internet work evading, I came across the inspiring and insightful talk that Tinybop founder Raul Gutierrez gave at Creative Mornings New York in January as part of a series of talks themed around childhood. His was entitled ‘Constructing Childhood’ and from it I gleaned rather a lot of wisdom.

Gutierrez looks at the last 100 years of childhood though the lens of his own family – his grandmother as a little girl, his mother and father as a children, himself and his brothers as kids and then his own offspring. “We put children at the centre of things,” Gutierrez says. “One of the questions we ask ourselves is: are we overdoing it? I would argue that we put too much emphasis on childhood, and probably too much on the wrong things.” I could quote much of it, but I’ll leave you to watch – do try and get to the end, it’s fascinating.

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Some of what Gutierrez says about kids needing the freedom to be bored and to be able to explore their tools reminds me of a brilliant article I spotted on Facebook (before I left obvs) called ‘I’m Done Making My Kids Childhood Magical’ by Bunmi Latidan. I implore you to read it, but if you don’t have time (understandable) here is a key excerpt:

Parents do not make childhood magical. Abuse and gross neglect can mar it, of course, but for the average child, the magic is something inherent to the age. Seeing the world through innocent eyes is magical. Experiencing winter and playing in the snow as a 5-year-old is magical. Getting lost in your toys on the floor of your family room is magical. Collecting rocks and keeping them in your pockets is magical. Walking with a branch is magical.

It is not our responsibility to manufacture contrived memories on a daily basis… When we make life a grand production, our children become audience members and their appetite for entertainment grows. Are we creating a generation of people who cannot find the beauty in the mundane? Do we want to teach our children that the magic of life is something that comes beautifully gift-wrapped – or that magic is something you discover on your own?

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‘The Human Body’ at play

Wise and true words indeed. And perhaps odd that I am sharing them, given that I write a blog about things to do with kids – and that I think many of those things are rather magical. But perhaps I should be clearer about this blog’s reason for being – it’s not things to do ‘for’ kids. Yes there are posts about Drusillas and other kiddy attractions – but I hope you also get the sense that there’s a rounded amount of content for things to do as a family, for kids to do on their own, or even for people in general (rather than just kids or families). Beaches, natural corners, things to spot on your school run, and woodland walks that is about the kind of wilder, freer play that Latidan talks of, but that is so hard to give today’s kids thanks to our health and safety neurosis. And our guilt.

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A zoom in on the intestine

But I digress. Back to Tinybop and the educational apps they make that work like a digital version of ‘walking with a branch’. They’re magical because they’re simple. They’re quiet. They’re exploratory. They’re about playscapes, discovery, understanding. The first app, ‘The Human Body‘ reached number one on the App Store’s education charts in 143 countries. Wow.

I have lately been a bit unsure about what the impact the digital universe represents for my children’s future lives. But look, there is a lot about the digital age that is incredible and wonderful – our children have such access to knowledge! My fear of Facebook and social media in general and of faces stuck to screens does not mean that I fear my children being plugged into the digital age all together. They will want to tap into technology – they already do. And sooner than I think, I’ll have little control over what they tap into. But while they’re young, if they’re going to spend time looking at a screen, I would love it to be one hosting a Tinybop app.

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The brain

These come with downloadable handbooks, that give you as a parent, conversation ideas and opportunities to learn yourself. The guide for ‘Plants’, the second of the two apps that are part of Tinybop’s Explorer’s Library, talks of ‘offering facts, interaction tips and plenty of prompts for conversation as you and your child wander earth’s biomes’. I love the idea of ‘wandering’ through an app.

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The forest in summer, from ‘Plants’

Indeed, the guide states that ‘like all apps in the Explorer’s Library, ‘Plants’ rewards curiosity, with no rules or levels. Dive in: each biome brims with life, and hidden surprises arise with every new adventure.’ In it, children can explore Marie Caudry’s animated original artwork, which lets them crash storms until lighting strikes and squelch desert succulents as they learn the names of flora and fauna.

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The forest in the autumn, from ‘Plants’

Tinybop’s apps are for ages 4+ and we already have ‘The Human Body’ (purchased IMMEDIATELY on watching ‘Constructing Childhood’). Both my boys have enjoyed tweaking around with it and seeing what will happen. I had a couple of “what are we supposed to do with this?” moments from my five-year-old, before he just decided to see for himself. Like Gutierrez says, the apps are “a little bit weird” – and that’s a good thing.

I’m excited to show my son the ‘Plants’ app. It’s currently $1.99 in the App Store and the next two biomes, the tundra and grasslands, will be free for that price. As the taiga, tropical savanna, tropical rainforest, and mangroves arrive, the app’s price will increase.

After the extension of ‘Plants’, I wonder what Tinybop will come up with next? Undoubtedly more creative, interesting, educating, beautiful apps. And hurrah for all that.

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The forest in spring, from ‘Plants’

Disclosure: No financial compensation was offered or accepted for the writing and publishing of this post. I think what Tinybop is doing is amazing and I wanted to share it with Little Lewes’s readers. I have not received access to the app from Tinybop in exchange for this blog post. It is not a review as we have not downloaded and tried out the ‘Plants’ app yet.

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I’m Kate, a copywriter, brand consultant and editor who creates messages that are clear and clean. I create these for brands and agencies both big and boutique, in areas including design, homes and interiors, travel, fashion, lifestyle, beauty, food, and kids and families. I believe clear, clean messages bolster brands and businesses. They evoke emotion and ignite inspiration, and when written well, they’re easier to absorb – and respond to. I live in Copenhagen and am half-English, half-Danish. I write as comfortably in American English as in British, and behind the scenes I'm also studying Danish. Need help getting your message out? Contact me.

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