Launchpad Toys Co-founder on Inspiring Storytelling in Youngsters

We wrote yesterday about the recent study from Launchpad Toys, which found their app Toontastic improved creativity and storytelling among young students. Intrigued by their recent success and noble mission, we connected with co-founder, Andy Russell, to learn more about the company’s vision. Check out the interview below. 

Who primarily uses Toontastic?

ANDY: We’ve found that a really nice range of young kids (4-6) all the way through tween/teen (12-13) have enjoyed the app in different ways. In the toy industry, the best toys are called “Grow With Me Toys” – different aged kids use them in different ways. LEGOs are a great example here: preschoolers build with DUPLO, elementary students graduate to Space and Town and Pirates, and then Tweens/Teens graduate into junior programmers using Mindstorms. The core play pattern stays the same, but the learning goals and the end result increases dramatically in complexity. 

At its core, Toontastic is an animation tool that’s accessible and fun for a 4-year-old, but can very quickly become a powerful storytelling and publishing tool for a 12-year-old. In that way, we like to think of our apps as “Grow With Me Toys” – just like the LEGOs that inspired us all as kids to be the builders and programmers we are today.

To whom/how are you spreading the word about your apps? Are parents primarily downloading Toontastic for kids? Or are you promoting the app via schools? 

ANDY: A little of both. One of the great things about the evolution of learning apps has been the blurring of lines between tools for the classroom tools and toys for the home. We didn’t design the app to be used in one setting or the other, but to be a fun and inspiring way for kids to create and share stories while improving their storytelling skills along the way.

As for promotion, we’ve found the best tool to be “word of mouth.” Kids create their own stories and then upload them to our ToonTube network to share with friends and family around the world. The kids’ cartoons go viral and they take our app with it!

How are teachers incorporating Toontastic into their lessons? Can you share examples?

ANDY: We’re actually working on a program right now to showcase many of our teachers’ best practices. We’re calling it “Launchpad Leaders” and it will go live this fall. One of the best parts of this experience has been seeing the many remarkably creative ways that teachers are integrating the app into a breadth of curricula. They’re just as creative as their students! One teacher in Texas is having the kids create movie trailers for their school’s library books, complete with QR stickers in the books that launch straight to ToonTube. Another teacher is teaching event sequencing by having one student create a sequential story, mix it up, and then pass it off to another student to reassemble. We have math, science, and even foreign language teachers using the app from kindergarten all the way through high school. It’s amazing to see.

With so much focus on STEM education, teaching storytelling and creativity can fall by the wayside. Why are these skills important?

ANDY: We’re big proponents of STEAM; let’s mix in a bit of ART along the way! As information becomes increasingly accessible (thank you Internet!) and our economy continues its shift away from labor and manufacturing towards creative jobs, our focus as educators should shift accordingly. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are critical skills, but as any leader in those fields will tell you, it’s not just about facts and figures and rote memorization – creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication (the 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning) are keys to future success in any career. As for Toontastic, we believe that storytelling, writing, and self expression should be universal skills and we’re personally looking forward to the next generation of playful storytellers… novels, movies, AND Powerpoints!

How are skills learned in Toontastic mapped to the Common Core Standards?

ANDY: Toontastic is a content creation tool that scaffolds the creative writing process to help kids create stories. In that way, it maps onto a range of Common Core Standards for English Language and Arts (SL.4.4, W3.3, etc.) for grades K-5. But beyond elementary storytelling, it can be used as a presentation tool or a dialog tool for any number of grades and topics. We have teachers using the app in Math Classrooms to teach functions, Foreign Language classes to practice dialog, History classes to create biographies, and Science classes to write Lab Reports. It’s pretty remarkable to see the range.

You recently launched MonkeyGram for older students. What’s your long-term vision for Launchpad Toys?

ANDY: We’re building what we like to call the “Adobe Creative Suite for Kids” – a collection of toys and tools that enable kids to create and learn through play. We started with animation for 5-12 year olds (Toontastic) and then added MonkeyGram as a messaging tool for teens. From there, we’ll extend to younger kids and then to other creative play patterns – basically all the great creativity toys you grew up with as a kid (Play-Doh, Erector Sets, Easy Bake Ovens… you name it!). Our goal is to be able to do for the next generation of kids as LEGO did for us: inspire “Creativity at Play.”

  • Matt Sutton

    I use Toontastic with kids from K-5 at school. It can be used as a simple game for them to play or we can expand it out so they must write stories and then recreate them using the App. It’s excellent and easy to use but my favorite part is seeing how the kids explain how to use it to the teachers.