New Tech for Innovative Kids Learning: Story of Kidiyo
Sophie de Jager, Kidiyo Lead, Netherlands
Sophie de Jager leads the Kidiyo team to rebrand their preschool game app, aiming to shift kids from online to real-world experiences through integration with offline learning tools.
To realize these ambitious plans, the Kidiyo app needed fundamental technical changes - a challenge taken on by Cyfrania’s development team. Recently, a key milestone was reached by converting the original web-based app to the Unity gaming platform.
In our talk with Sophie, we explored her educational ideas, how she feels about managing a tech project, and what’s next for the app.
Kidiyo, compatible with Android and iOS, uses smart media to revolutionize early learning. It delivers a stimulating, educational, and playful experience to children aged 0-6.
Kids interact with cute animal characters, exploring an engaging world filled with challenges and adventures. In this way, Kidiyo effectively blends play with skill development, enhancing attention, memory, creativity, language, thinking, and social and emotional abilities.
Furthermore, Kidiyo encourages kids to move past the virtual world, to engage with the real world too, interact with friends, explore nature, and take care of the environment. The app is free and 100% kid-safe, with no ads or in-app purchases.
Learning That Is Fun
To begin, let’s describe the Kidiyo app’s idea. What is its purpose?
Kidiyo started about five years ago as an educational entertainment platform for children aged zero to six. It’s centered around learning through playing, and the play aspect is very important to us. We aim to avoid school-like learning and things that are too educational. We don’t say, “This is right, this is wrong.” We want it to be a fun experience for the child.
How did you come up with the idea?
I was not the one who came up with this idea since I joined Kidiyo only two years ago. The original plan, to my knowledge, was to create a game where a child can play with any character they know. However, it was very difficult to arrange this with the owners of these characters.
So that’s when the idea came to start our own characters, our own story, our own thing, leading to the birth of the Kidiyo brand.
And what’s the rebrand concept you’re bringing to the table?
Five years ago, Kidiyo was literally only an app. But two years ago, after the project had been stopped for a while, we started with a slightly new plan.
We want to expand this brand into a multi-platform kids’ entertainment environment, focused fully on making sustainability fun. We began with Kidiyo-styled books and adventure boxes. They showcase Kidiyo animal characters, each encountering a problem in the natural world, and show kids how they can help them, all in a fun and playful way.
So, earlier the app itself used to be the core business, and now it’s only part of it. But we utilized the original app idea, which was already quite strong. It is a good foundation to implement the current ideas. Kidiyo is still about education through entertainment.
Fresh Perspective on Early Learning
You seem to see a lot of problems with the current approaches to preschool online learning. Could you share more about these issues?
Most of the kids’ apps out there are either purely entertainment or purely educational. And for apps that claim they’re fun and educational, usually, the only fun part is simply that kids are allowed to use the iPad. They’re still just solving math equations or doing similarly boring school things.
Another major problem is safety. For us, it’s very important that our app is safe, and kids cannot navigate away from it to other online spaces without their parent’s approval.
And currently, we aren’t aware of any other app educating young children about environmental issues. Materials we do see are often very dramatic and dark. We’d rather celebrate nature and guide children to enjoy their world in a healthy way.
Environmental Awareness Through Appreciating Nature
Your mission is to solve this issue?
Our focus is environmental issues. But it’s crucial for kids to enjoy it. When they read our books, they don’t even realize we’re educating them. A parent will see it, which is good because we want to reach the parents too - that’s part of the plan.
For a kid, it’s purely fun; they’re just enjoying the story, the games, and the adventures we create. But they gain the right mindset from an early age. That’s our goal and what sets us apart from other sustainability stuff that is around at the moment.
Kidio app’s main objective is to educate about sustainability?
The app is not quite there yet. It features games with animal characters, each in a separate world. We’ve created nature stories for these animals within their worlds. These stories are part of our books and adventures, but not yet shown in the app. That’s our upcoming stage.
Screen Time That’s Beneficial for Kids
So, is the Kidiyo app a part of a bigger system?
Yes, apart from the Kidiyo app, we have other things. We have books and adventure boxes. The Kidiyo brand itself is also part of a broader system focused solely on children’s education via play.
We manufacture several brands of physical educational toys. We manage several websites for selling educational toys. One of our webshops, MontiPlanet, was also crafted by the Cyfrania team. Additionally, one of our companies is developing an online school learning platform.
Do you have physical toys based on Kidiyo characters?
Not yet. We aim for more than just merchandise. Our goal is for every physical toy we create to be purposeful. Currently, we integrate Kidiyo with other existing games and characters, utilizing already available physical toys. But we certainly intend to in the future.
Could you explain in more detail how the books and adventure boxes are connected with the Kidiyo app?
We began with animal characters from the Kidiyo app, like the whale and squirrel, creating stories about their problems and how kids can help. This inspired our books. Next, we developed adventure boxes, which can be purchased and contain everything needed for a child to have an adventure and help the character in the real world.
Next, we need to integrate this with the game content in the app, so that after reading the book, a child can learn more about the animal and how to help it in the app. This integration doesn’t exist yet; we’ll start doing that next year. Now that we have the app in Unity, we can begin integrating all three aspects of Kidiyo.
Are you aiming to merge online and offline learning methods?
We want kids to start learning in the app and then take that learning to the real world, to the offline world as well. Eventually, it will become a complete adventurous learning experience.
For instance, in a memory game, you learn that a certain thing is not good for squirrels, and another thing is good for whales. This environmental learning is reinforced in the book and continued in the adventure box.
I think we primarily want to inspire kids to go into nature, but it’s quite difficult to completely take them off screens nowadays. We understand screens are there, so we really try to combine the online and offline play. But it’s tricky, we’re still deciding on the best way to do it.
Special Treatment for Special Audience
The Kidiyo app is for a very young audience, from zero to six-year-olds. Really, even zero?
Yeah, even zero. We even joke it begins at minus nine months, as parents start wondering about digital media for their kids as early as then.
How are you collecting feedback from the kids to figure out how the apps should progress?
That is very difficult, seriously. For example, testing is quite hard. We’ve attempted to test the app in schools and daycares but faced numerous issues. Therefore, we rely on our own test group, mainly using kids of colleagues, friends, and acquaintances to gather feedback.
We even try to involve kids in creating stories, having actually used children’s input in developing games and stories.
It’s intriguing. Can you share an example of what you’ve actually used from the kids’ inventions?
Children are highly imaginative and come up with unique ideas. For instance, they don’t see a whale being harmed by plastics; and in their minds, kids are not littering, just playing with a bottle. We adopted this positive view, using a whale returning a bottle toy to show whales prefer no bottles in the ocean.
So, yes. We try to bring in early adopters, send them questionnaires, and follow up on children’s app experiences. We extensively test, aiming for as much feedback as possible, but it’s hard to get it from kids. So, we visit their homes and invite them to our office to play games.
How do you reach out to the kids who are Kidiyo app users?
We reach out to the parents.
The app is online, so through parents, we attract new users. With books and adventure boxes, it’s a bit different - a child can see them in a library or store and say, “I want to read this book, or I want to get the adventure box.”
So, we have two audiences. Our marketing audience is parents, the ones who pay. We need to demonstrate our unique selling proposition, the value of Kidiyo, and what they gain from using our app, books, and adventure boxes.
But the real audience is children. They’re the ones who need entertainment. We aim to make it engaging so they’ll talk about it and request the Kidiyo app and books from their parents. Thus, we have to create fun for the kids at the same time as marketing towards the adults, which are the two separate paths we follow.
It probably helps that the app, books, and adventure boxes complement each other - if you like the book, you’ll want to play the game, and so on?
Yes, but it’s crucial to mention that only parents receive marketing. Our app has no ads - a child will never hear “You can now buy the book.” We only market to parents - send emails saying, “Did you know that there’s an option for your kid to learn offline with our books?”
Developers Team Unlocking New Possibilities
Are you tech-savvy? Do you find it easy to discuss technical details with developers?
Absolutely not. I grasp the development process’s logic, but I’m not a developer; I don’t know any coding languages. Hence, it’s quite a challenge. When a team member says something can’t be done for a specific reason, I have to fully believe them because I have no idea.
It’s the developers’ responsibility to translate tech into regular human language. Aren’t they doing a good job at it?
Basic aspects are easily explainable, such as the user interface. I can see and understand it, like spotting a misplaced button. No problem there. However, the more complex, under-the-hood elements are more challenging for developers to explain to me. But generally, I believe they do a good job. The team lead, in particular, excels at simplifying and clarifying things, which helps a lot.
After half a year of Cyfrania working on the Kidiyo project, you probably have a much better grasp of the technical aspects now, right?
Only a little bit. Take Unity, for instance, I am clueless about it.
Initially, the app was web-based, and I found it relatively simple to grasp its workings. However, the Cyfrania developers adapted Kidiyo to the Unity gaming platform, allowing us to incorporate exciting new features, such as an interactive world map for selecting mini-games, which replaced dull icons.
This shift to Unity marked our first step toward our objective. But this transition has made it more challenging for me to comprehend the technicalities.
What are the takeaways and impressions you have from directing a tech project?
I think the main thing is that the developers need super clear instructions to work. We can’t expect them to guess what we want or what’s best for kids as users.
And I think, since we’re doing so many different things, and the core focus is not purely on the app, it lacks clarity for the developers. Therefore, we plan to hire an in-house chief technical officer who would provide developers with detailed tasks and follow up in a more systematic way.
Might a business analyst be suitable for this? They could examine your preferences and formulate precise tasks for developers, converting business language into tech speak.
It might work temporarily, but considering our other tech ventures, such as web stores for educational toys, we require a more comprehensive solution. A technical senior, based in our Netherlands office, will stay updated on all company matters regularly, keeping control of the bigger picture across all different projects.
Experimenting to Achieve an Authentic Learning Experience
What is your vision for the future of the app? Do you aspire for it to become a kid-friendly Google and YouTube alternative?
No, Google and YouTube are too broad and not safe for young children.
However, we have a dream of launching a TV show. We will create short animations and cartoons dedicated to exploring nature and will showcase them within the app as well. And, of course, we aspire for our Kidiyo characters to become as recognizable and beloved as Peppa Pig or the Paw Patrol.
What is your view of your final destination?
I see the ultimate objective as building a multi-platform brand. The idea is for kids to be able to engage with Kidiyo across various mediums, whether it’s watching a TV show, reading books, playing with toys, or using the app. Through these experiences, through Kidiyo animal characters, kids will learn about the environment, both online and offline. That, I think, is the goal.
To connect children with nature and the real world?
Exactly. A child can read a fun book about squirrels and then learn how to help them through videos in the app or by playing a related game. Afterward, the child can have a real-world adventure, such as building a squirrel house in the garden, making it a complete learning experience.
This hasn’t been implemented fully yet. We have books, the app, and the Kidiyo adventure boxes, however, we are still experimenting with how to bring everything together in the most fun way.
This is a wonderful endeavor, and we’re happy to be involved in it!
Read more details about the Kidiyo project in our portfolio.