Make Investments in Children
K.S. Stanislavsky once said, “It is necessary to play the same way for children as for adults, but considerably better, more delicately, in a more civilized manner and more perfectly.” And you don’t want to argue with him, because there is no point.
Creating any product for children is a significant responsibility. Children are our future. As such, it’s important to think seriously about taking care of them properly from the outset, before it is too late.
In this article, Kanstantsin Strausau, director of the company “ActivePads” and creator of software products for young people, answers some pertinent questions about meeting children’s development needs in the modern age, and considers which investments in children are the most important.
Hello, Kanstantsin. Let’s go back to the beginning. How did everything start? How did you find yourself in the IT sphere?
I first started to be interested in IT as a child when I came across some articles about programming the microcalculator MK–61, which were printed in the magazine “Science and Life” (he is laughing). I’m joking, of course, but everything started when I was very young. I was interested in analyzing the code of the programs described in the magazine and wondered how I could add new features to it without increasing the size of the code. Not long after my neighbor obtained a Sinclair computer and I spent hours playing around on that. Afterward, I had excellent teachers at school. Later there was Belorussian State University. I studied at the Faculty of Physics at university (Chair of Methodology and teaching physics and IT).
I was taught computer-based modeling of physical processes. I was very interested in the way the professors gave us a really correct “business” method by which we could solve physical problems. As it turned out, this was useful for creating my own projects.
Our 90s were absolutely difficult (especially in the financial area), and it was an incomprehensible time. I could get fixed up in a job in a publishing house and work as a system administrator and a maker-up. I had to master this additional profession connected with printing trades at the same time as completing my full-time tuition. Computer mastering and programming skills allowed me to do a big majority of sums of making-up and pre-press. One of the plusses of that job was the usage of the powerful (for that moment) computers, which allowed users to work with three-dimensional graphics, edit videos, and also sometimes play perfect computer games.
My first book “Working on a Computer: Step-by-step” was published in 2001. As time passed, I started to run publishing projects and cooperated with large Russian publishing houses that concentrated on the publication of literature for children.
In 2010, I watched a video on the Internet about the app “Alice in Wonderland” on iPad. The video seriously impressed me, and I realized I could create a similar project myself. I had to make up my mind to do it. I left my assistant director position on production in a big Belorussian publishing house and started my own business. It was an unbelievably difficult step because it was hard to walk away from a secure job into the unknown. I found myself faced with hundreds of new questions that required new administrative, economical and financial knowledge to answer. I soon realized that I couldn’t create the projects I planned without external investment.
It certainly hasn’t been easy! Tell us, why did you decide to create an electronic product for tablets and sensorial screen gadgets?
This statement isn’t quite correct. The projects were always developed with the intention that they would be published both electronically and on paper. We recognized the power of publishing not only on tablets, but also as a web app (almost like a site). We realized the immense power of interactive TV and the important role it would play in the future. In addition to passively watching TV, it became apparent that children would also start to use it as a means of learning and managing their own development. As such, in reality, the content was created inclusive of all the possible types of publishing.
Why have you decided to create a product that is targeted at children? Specifically, child development?
My own children and my working experience with polygraphic childish projects drove me to create products for children. The lack of high-quality and educationally rich programs that are aimed at children motivated me to develop something that could help parents to facilitate their children to develop fine motor logic, creativity, and memory skills.
Let’s talk about the current situation in the software market in general. Which program products would you advise our readers to avoid? Specifically those that are targeted at children.
In my opinion, all offerings have some value; however, it is important to do everything in moderation. It’s important for parents’ to know which cartoons their children watch and what games they play. It is also important that parents actively discuss these programs and games with their children, even if they are very young. This will prevent children from becoming passive observers who are nothing more than puppets in the hands of strangers.
A lot of people complain about the fact that products that are targeted at children contain a lot of aggression, even those about superheroes. What do you think about this?
The vogue of superheroes has been enduring. However, the heroes have changed as time has passed. A superhero usually becomes a model, someone who children look up to and imitate. It is, therefore, important that the qualities and virtues he exhibits are desirable and positive.
As for a lot of characters’ increasing aggression; unfortunately, this is a sad reflection of modern-day society. It is a great pity that so many games, films, and cartoons don’t offer an alternative, unaggressive means of dealing with behavior or actions. Children are being raised to think that these behaviors are a standard and acceptable part of real life.
But every medal has its reverse. More recent cartoons, e.g. “Frozen”, “Big Hero 6”, “Home”, etc. do not have any aggressive heroes. What are your views of these offerings?
It is important to depict various situations in “virtual” life so that we can fit them with our real lives. Often there are negative heroes in real life…
Besides, the existence of both positive and negative heroes provides children with an opportunity to acquire moral standards of behavior and to recognize the difference between kindness and misfortune, devotion and betrayal, justice and injustice.
What principals do you follow in your job? What purposes do you put before yourself, which problems do you solve? For what is “all of this”?
To structure my own aspirations, I live by several standards. The first one is to “truthfully apply high technologies.” The programs must not only entertain, but also teach, enhance communication with the world, open vital secrets, motivate, support and also analyze child’s behavior. You must make products that motivate lagging people and give more work to smart people. You mustn’t be boring. Besides, the books must be books, for example, but with the correct application of “additional stages of liberty” that are possible in electronic presentations.
The second is to publish responsibly. One of the most frightful phrases for me is “the crowd eats this up.” Some program creators, publishers, teachers, authors and other characters lead a great number of customers to the concrete torpor.
Estimate, please, what has happened to the book market, which is full of low-grade texts, poor-quality illustrations, disgusting polygraphic rendering and cheap paper. People have stopped reading. Children even don’t want to start reading. And, as soon as we voluntarily step back, only one “stupid ball” replaces the development. And then, with the lack of financial competence comes poorness, with the lack of scientific comprehension of vital processes comes obscurantism.
What things will never feature in a product that you are producing?
“Parp” heroes, zombies who are in abundance won’t ever exist on the screen. You mustn’t have time for it.
Why have you referred to the fairy tales of Hans Andersen and not to Charles Perrault or Grimm Brothers? Is here an interior meaning?
Several excellent artists applied to my company who had almost finished Andersen’s fairy tales. The works were done perfectly. We decided to use these highly artistic illustrations in electronic publications. And, from that moment, they were depicted on paper.
The group of active people formed among my friends, who were professionals in different spheres: psychologists, linguists, writers, composers, art critics, interpreters, directors and also fairy tales admirers. My friends supported me actively during the first stage, so I am immensely grateful to them. Everything started from the fairy tale Thumbelina, which was noticed by Apple’s editorial office after it appeared in the American iBookStore. It eventually appeared in the category Editor’s Choice in the USA. We were favorites of Apple for several months.
Tell us, who helps you work the most? How do you create new ideas and decisions?
I constantly follow up new opportunities in industry and actively communicate with my workshop colleagues, visit exhibitions and conferences. Most of my new companions admire the quality of our products and always, especially at the start, actively offer new ideas. Some of them go on to cooperate with us on a long-term basis. However, I sincerely confess that the most active people, the most valuable helpers, are my children. They are my inspiration, and my first “testers” and critics! Quite often my programmer and I develop a concept in the morning, and my children test it in the evening. And, as they do so, the problems and disadvantages come almost immediately apparent. For example, we once worked on a fairytale with my daughter when she was only four years old. It started out as a simple game, and then a whole plot emerged that we were then able to realize in the form of an app.
Are your children very creative?
All my children are creative, and I feel that it is important that I notice and develop it. My daughter, for example, was seriously interested in art, and she has never lacked inspiration for her work. My son was recently included in technique mastery.
It sounds quite perfect! Are you able to tell us what you are working on at the moment?
At the moment, we are working on some new software that incorporates a diagnostic-developing complex that is targeted at children who are aged between 3 and 7 years old. It is based on Ch. Perrault “The Little Red Riding Hood”. It has been created in an interactive animated attractive playing form. It is anticipated that it will be useful for teachers, parents, kindergarten staff, psychologists, speech therapists and, of course, the children themselves.
In other words, we can use this game to facilitate psychological analysis? It sounds very interesting. But, you tell us that it is impossible to create programs such as these without investments. Is it hard to attract such investment?
Definitely! In fact, it is necessary to have the whole team of specialists for working out similar software. In addition to programmers, we also need psychologists. In general, I’ll repeat, investments in children’s development are the most important investments: be it in a program product or subscription to a chess school. It is very important to give a child a basis on which he can develop and establish his own life. Our role as parents and educators is to provide our children with the qualities and skills he will need in life. Therein lies the answer to the question “what is this investment for?”
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