Sunday, May 20, 2012

I Want to Move to “Magic Town”

Websites We Love
A new children’s website from Mindshapes Ltd. delivers a virtual world based on picture books and stories. Magic Town is designed for kids born in 1999 or later. And it really does feel like a town, a magical landscape populated with a collection of fanciful houses. Each time a new story is added to your personal Magic Town, another house appears. Think of it as a kinder, gentler Sims.

Mindshapes Ltd. is a United Kingdom-based company, so the kid characters Izzy and Max who lead users through the experience of Magic Town speak with English accents, which is fine by me. I like my child to know there are other countries in the world. And a gentle Lion Louis introduces users to a different story every day.

Inside "Aesop's House"
Magic Town is all about children’s picture books. Each clickable “house” contains a story or stories by a particular author. As you might imagine, both Aesop and Hans Christina Anderson have houses here. But you’ll also find Elmer the Patchwork Elephant in the little patchwork (appropriately enough) house. I can imagine little girls going wild for the Superfairies who live in a pink helicopter. The Superfairies are exclusive to the site, and you’ll find a mix of favorite books and new (and exclusive) material in Magic Town.

When you venture inside a house, you’ll find what sets Magic Town apart. There are four distinct ways to approach each story and each mode offers plenty of interactivity. In watch mode, a narrator reads the book aloud as the story plays as an interactive animation. Read together mode removes the audio narration so you or your child do the reading. In play mode, also called read to me mode, the story is read aloud by a narrator and the user clicks flashing “hotspots” to make the story continue. My favorite (or favourite if you’re in England) is the explore mode, where the story is narrated and every so often pauses for a reading comprehension question. This can help acclimate kids to reading comprehension tests that are part of every kid’s life, both in merry old England and cheerful, young USA. There are also additional games and puzzles connected to every book.

Your host, Louis the Lion
Magic Town claims that their interactive system will “promote language development, moral development, imagination, perspective-taking, social intelligence and practical skills.” Those are bold and expansive claims, but my own exploration with my 3 ½ year old supports those claims, or at least as many of those claims as it’s possible to explore in a few weeks. Magic Town really is a very well designed platform. There are limitations, though, as Magic Town offers plenty of free material, but for a fee (monthly/half-yearly/or yearly), you can unlock much more content and “keep” the books for as long as you like. There’s a new, free book every day in Magic Town, but it disappears after one day if you’re not a subscriber.

Should you invest the $11.99 per month; $59.99 for 6 months; or $74.99 for a full year of Magic Town? Honestly, it depends on your child. A different book each day, even one your child can’t “keep,” might work well for you. Only you know if your child likes to read the same book many times or prefers a fresh story every day. Either way, there’s so much free content in Magic Town right this minute, you and your child won’t have to make a snap decision.

Personally, I just love Magic Town. It’s just the content and tone I want for my child: rich, inquisitive content that is educational while entertaining. I’m all for the “explore” option that gently folds in a few fun reading comprehension questions. I don’t want my little girl to be afraid of tests and Magic Town makes the questions feel like a game. You should visit Magic Town soon. Say cheerio from me when you’re there.

1 comment:

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