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Learning how to read early is a key predictor of a child’s academic success and is widely recognized as one of the most difficult things young children learn to do. Today, over 97% of children entering kindergarten cannot recognize a word, or find a word within the context of a sentence.  Emergent literacy is the stage where young children (ages 2-5) typically can begin to understand the concept of print. Parents or caregivers are the first instructors, reading to children at home by repeatedly demonstrating how text maps to speech and pictures. Eventually, the child reaches the “aha!” moment when they comprehend the concept of reading where text maps to spoken word and concept.

Mobile and tablet-based applications are rapidly becoming a principal medium through which children both play and learn. In fact, roughly 80% of the top-selling paid iPad apps in the Education category of the iTunes App Store target children.  Tablet usage by children under 11 years will experience a compound annual growth rate of nearly 75% in the U.S. over the next two years, the fastest amongst any age demographic excluding adults over 65.

Based on the research of Dr. Angela Chang at the MIT Media Lab, TinkerStories employ an innovative approach to literacy built upon parent-child bonding and storytelling rituals.  The vast majority of educational mobile and tablet apps targeted for children are explicitly designed to remove the parent from the loop; children are “plugged in” to the device, marginalizing parents’ role as storytellers and literacy guides.  In stark contrast, TinkerStories are active-engagement learning tablet apps that allow children and parents to explore and read together through gestural and audio-visual interactions.

TinkerStories are meaningfully interactive shared learning experiences, explicitly intended for parents to read with their children. Our approach, which we term as tinkerability, endows media with dynamic properties by linking words and objects to gestures. This allows readers to play with the link between words and concept. Tinkerability provides children with multisensory contexts within which to learn and associate meaning. It also allows readers to dynamically change the story as they tinker with the story elements.