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Math it Right 3D Aventure, our new 3D treasure hunter game to learn arithmetic and times tables

Of the challenging aspects of building a game there is especially, one, finding what is actually entertaining and pushes you to play more, and two complete a game development project as a finished product. With these 2 goals in mind, I’ve started a new prototype with the intention of completing it this time around. 

This new project is Math it Right 3D Adventure a fun educational game for little ones, roughly 5 to 8 years old, around math and especially arithmetic with a 3d treasure hunter twist. 

While some say math is fun, getting attention from kids to learn arithmetic and times tables is a steep challenge. So the intention here is to ease the learning task such as memorizing times tables, basic additions, or subtractions of integers as a fun experience. Let’s gamify arithmetic and times tables. 

Thanks to the Unity Asset Store there are several solutions that helped to kick start the project with impressive outputs in a short period of time. This is not an exhaustive list but includes the main tools

Gaia 2 – Terrain & Scene Generator by Procedural Worlds: a system that generates terrain with terra-forming and texturing functions. The stamping tool helped me to define the overall shape of the island. The solution includes additional tools and scripts such as a character controller 

Kinematic Character Controller by Philippe St-Amand, a set of low-level scripts to help to build a precise and responsive character controller. This requires you to get your hands on the code but get impressive results with smooth and tight control of a third-person character. 

The new Input System from Unity helped to build versatile controls between gamepads,  touchscreen, keyboard, or mouse. This makes the game a truly multi-platform solution. 

Flat Kit: Toon Shading and Water by Dustyroom, the very customizable solution for cel-shading. It gives a nice cartoonish look with great controls on the rendering. 

See some video and pictures of the early preview. More to come soon! 

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Home-schooling game design with a 5 years old

There’s only a certain amount of home-schooling and exercises to do at home, especially for little ones. They become exhausted and lose their attention rapidly. A continuous battle to find more and new exciting things to do.

Earlier this month, after half an hour of phonics reading and struggling to get the basics of multiplication we paused these topics for a completely different one. Game design.

Surprisingly as soon as I mentioned we’re going to make our own game I had all the attention and focus in the world. Flows of millions of ideas followed.

A great opportunity to learn by playing, as long as the perception of making a game is considered playing. It was, it is still, even after three weeks, a few hours a week.

Just to name a few there is a plethora of skills and knowledge required to develop and build a game. I obviously picked the technical and advanced topics like software development and integration and assisted him in all the rest.

Project management

Project and game name: Shrot – straight and definite answer from the little one. I’ve tried to discuss and explore alternative options; this was definitive, as the lead designer he made his choice.

The name of the game is Shrot

Next major item and similarly for grown-up projects: managing expectations. We need to set goals, which are achievable in a relatively short term with the time and skills we have. Million of ideas is great but let’s start simple and think big. And so we agreed to base the game on a simple mechanic, a 2-dimensional platformer with a target of 10 levels, playable with a gamepad and on-screen buttons.

We’ve also started to gather and classify workable ideas into a Kanban board using Trello. Trello helps to organise ideas in cards where they can be reordered, prioritized and mark as complete. This is trivial but the core of project management.

Graphic Design

The obvious start is to work on visuals. So we gathered all sorts of arts and crafts and materials we could use. In the current version of the game, there are elements designed with paint, felt pens, gritty pastels, pencils, glitters, wiggly colourful bits, pompoms, cotton, squashed paper, digital media, real-life pictures,  glue and various sorted of crafted items.

The graphical theme is quite broad and organised by theme, especially picked by the little one; jungle, snow, lava, cloud worlds and others.

Game and Level Design

Designing the game and levels is actually one of the most challenging parts. It needs a lot of thinking for the game to flow. We approached it by testing and playing. An interesting game needs to introduce new mechanics and slightly raise the challenge over and over to make it fun and not repetitive. As of now the first level, the jungle, is complete in a sense that it contains all the elements and progression we wanted.

Audio and Music Design

Some of the audio is recorded with a microphone, the main bulk comes from sound libraries where we spent time browsing and exploring sound ideas.

The main tune is actually am acapella recording from Otto from start to finish without and preparation. I told him do you want to sing the music of the game and just did it straight away. First cut. A few days later we layered in synthetic instruments while playing with Garage Band and the result is actually quite fun.

So this is our home-schooling game design experience. Here is the video of the first level, hope you enjoy, and we, especially Otto, 5, can’t wait to get your feedback.

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Storytelling, the storyteller experience and how to engage your kids into writing a story

This was a completely unprepared activity – storytelling. The little one was watching me attentively working on my computer. I told him to give a try. He was delighted because he started to barely read and write and never used a  laptop or a computer before. 

I was using my professional laptop with the classic office suite etc, so rather than focusing on a plain text I showed him how to use the touchpad and drag graphic elements and text in a page. At this point, I’ve seen a spark in his eyes. Creative possibilities are infinite with this new toy! 

While I was I guiding him through the basic technical aspects he already starting to suggest many ideas. Characters playing together but did not want to share, expressing their opinions and ideas, defying their friendship, etc. 

This is how he started to write his own children’s book. There were no limits, I was actually surprised he came up with constructed sorry arc, dramatic structure and plot devices. With a bit of help especially in typing words, he came up with the below few pages.

The exposition. First, he set up the scene, 2 colourful heart-shaped characters. One cooking, the other one playing.

The inciting incident. The 2 characters express their wishes and upset the status quo, starting the story movement. One actually wants to cook and the other one wants to play at the playground. 

I want to cook 
I want to play 
at the 
playground

Rising Action. The story moves toward a climax, the characters express doubts and raise a problem; they don’t intend to share their activities.

Here I’ve helped him to draw suitcases it became a bit too sophisticated.

Resolution or denouement. The outcome of the story is revealed, these 2 shaped hearts are actually best friends and want to share their experience. Great happy ending!

Can I cook with 
you? 
Yes! 
Can I play at the 
playground with 
you?

Surprising storytelling experience for both the little writer and myself who was actually impressed with the level of inherent knowledge the little one acquired as a devout spectator of bedtime stories. Since then he’s been a contributor in writing the story of our educational game Ready Veggie Fruity Go with excellent ideas! 

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The LEGO brick brainteasers: escape the maze

The LEGO brick maze activity for kids

Bricks and constructions are always a good option to get your little one busy for a moment. Not only kids need to focus, observe and model spatially; it also encourages them to develop problem-solving. This activity is ideal for 4 to 6 years old and it’s likely fun for any age group since you can add several levels of complexity and challenges.

So let’s build a maze and guide a ball through the twists and traps and dead ends. Let’s find our way out of the labyrinth! For this fun learning activity we need

  • A large LEGO baseplate; it should be 32 studs by 32 studs or more
  • A few dozens of bricks with various combinations; a lot of classic bricks are required and few quirky bricks can add some fun and challenges, for instance, arches, bridges and slopes
  • A marble ball or any small ball about 1cm or half a inch
  • A bit of time to build and time for fun!

Build the walls at least one standard brick high and make sure passages are large enough for the ball, so depending on the ball at least 2 to 3 studs. Create an open space for the entrance and an open space for the exit. Tilt the game board to get the ball rolling through the maze passaged from the entrance to the exit. You can also add a countdown to level up the difficulty and the competition. But remember the most important is to have fun!

For extra fun we’ve added: a chest to collect treasures, some monsters and cogs to avoid, a spinning gate and a few bumps. The little one also enjoys having his characters browsing the maze to explore and find treasures. Enjoy and share your experience!

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Learning through Play. Play is Learning. Learning is Playing.

It’s not just common knowledge, research confirmed this as well: play is essential for learning. And actually play is the best method of learning! Why spending time learning when you could actually play (and learn)? Play involves creativity. Play involved imagination. In the eyes of a young child, running, pretending, building are all fun activities and way of expression yourself. An more academic definition from Beverlie Dietze and Diane Kashin in Playing and Learning in Early Childhood Education is Play is active, child-initiated, process oriented, intrinsic, episodic, rule-governed, and symbolic.

Play is a fundamental right of every child. This was actually recognised by the United Nations in 1989. Children need the freedom to explore and play. Play also contributes to brain development. There is a false mainstream sense that playing and learning are two clear-cut concepts. Unfortunately the pressure of modern society on delivering results, filling assessments, tests preparations affects the amount of time children spend playing, and consequently learning. This is counter-intuitive and counterproductive. See this research article from David Elki, The Power of Play, Learning that Comes Naturally, 2008, University of Illinois.

Play means pleasure; and learning can be pleasure. Play is intrinsically motivated, there is no goal to fulfil, only a sense of freewill. Play is spontaneous and voluntary and void of any external pressure to deliver results. This is why flashcards and educational toys are artifice. They mislead and push children in a learning activity while giving a false sense of play. Childhood play develops all soft skills strongly needed later on during adult life such as problem solving, language acquisition, literacy, numeracy and social, physical, and emotional intelligence.

It reminds me of a great quote from O. Fred Donaldson, author of “Playing by Heart”

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.”

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.” - O. Fred Donaldson

Let your little one learn as they play by trying our fun educational games.

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Maria Montessori, the teacher ahead of her time

Maria Montessori surrounded by children at school

Doctor Maria Montessori. What a great woman. In the early twentieth century, she elaborated an innovative and controversial method of education, now simply called Montessori.

Each child is an individual 

Montessori is the premise that children are individuals and should be given the opportunity to be guided or coordinated through the environment instead of being instructed by a mentor. 

In lesser words. Figure it out. Do it yourself. 

With support though. Children develop at their own pace and instructors observes the children and adapt the activities and environments to meet their own needs. 

An environment to develop self-discipline and self-confidence 

The emphasis is placed on the use of specific equipment and other dedicated assets to capture interest and lead to creativity, initiative, independence, inner discipline and self-confidence. Help the children to reveal their personal attributes and interests. 

The environment is organised and free from clutter. Indoor or outdoor. 

The environment supports activities meaningful learning experiences. Initially focussing on perception of size, shape, volume, colour, pattern, odour, sound and texture. Later, in discoveries relating to mathematics, language and literacy, art, music, science, and social studies 

The first steps to learn how to write 

Montessori has five essential stages of observation. Practical life, sensorial education, language education, mathematics and the cultural area.  

Practical life experiences cover all daily routines and how to handle them. Like tying shoelaces or opening and closing drawers. Sensorial education covers the use of the five senses and especially how to feel and hold a pencil. A major step in the long learning curve of writing.

Maria Montessori memorable anecdote 

Let’s finish with this anecdote which marks the beginning of his research on his method of education 

“I was making my first essays in applying the principles and part of the material I had used for many years previously in the education of deficient children, to the normal children of the San Lorenzo quarter in Rome, when I happened to notice a little girl of about three years old deeply absorbed in a set of solid insets, removing the wooden cylinders from their respective holes and replacing them.  

The expression on the child’s face was one of such concentrated attention that it seemed to me an extraordinary manifestation; up to this time none of the children had ever shown such fixity of interest in an object; and my belief in the characteristic instability of attention in young children, who flit incessantly from one thing to another, made me peculiarly alive to the phenomenon. 
 
I watched the child intently without disturbing her at first, and began to count how many times she repeated the exercise; then, seeing that she was continuing for a long time, I picked up the little arm-chair in which she was seated, and placed chair and child upon the table; the little creature hastily caught up her case of insets, laid it across the arms of her chair, and gathering the cylinders into her lap, set to work again.  

Then I called upon all the children to sing; they sang, but the little girl continued undisturbed, repeating her exercise even after the short song had come to an end. I counted forty-four repetitions when at last she ceased, it was quite independently of any surrounding stimuli which might have distracted her, and she looked round with a satisfied air, almost as if awaking from a refreshing nap. 
 
I think my never-to-be-forgotten impression was that experienced by one who has made a discovery.” 

— Maria Montessori, Advanced Montessori Method, 1917