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Image: UOW.

Five-year-olds develop app for preschoolers

In 1930, we had trampolines. Thirty years later, we got Transformers. In the 90s, it was all about the underwater walkie-talkie. Now, the latest iteration of child-designed toys is, of course, an app.

Developed by 5-to-7-year-olds, in conjunction with social science researchers from the University of Wollongong (UOW), Tiny Town seeks to engage 3-to-5-year-olds in imaginative play.

One of the adult co-developers, PhD student Maria Clara Rivera, explained how the kids went from doodling to guiding coders.

“We put the children together and gave them a big sheet of butcher’s paper and they came up with the ideas,” she said.

“The app they came up with is about a town. They can walk around and choose an area to go to, such as a garden or a swimming pool, and then have interactions. For example, with the pool area they came up with a lot of ideas for pool play: diving into the pool with a splash, being a mermaid, swimming around, rowing about in a dinghy.”

For Rivera, along with fellow researchers, associate professors Irina Verenikina and Lisa Kervin, the app forms part of an ARC Discovery Project on the role of tablet technologies in the development of imaginative play in young children.

They worked with 17 families and 41 children, and observed them playing with hundreds of apps. Rivera then worked with six of those children to create Tiny Town.

To ensure the grownups didn’t dominate in the app’s development, they filmed the process. They also affixed cameras to kids’ heads, so they could literally see things from the kids’ perspectives.

Co-researcher Lisa Kervin explained how they further tried to give children the upper-, app-development hand. “We looked very carefully at the ratio of adult to child, so Clara facilitated the workshops and Irina and I were watching what was happening,” she said.

“We were also careful about not asking too many questions and actually letting the children come to us with observations and insights.”

Tiny Town made its public debut at OUW’s Early Start Development Space last week.

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