A man, Warren Buckleitner, stands in the middle of a yellow room. People sit around, listening to him intently.

The day Warren Buckleitner visited StoryToys

Warren Buckleitner is an educational psychologist who is an expert on child development and technology. He is the founder of the Dust or Magic Institute on the Design of Children’s Interactive Media and a founding editor of Children’s Technology Review. And this month he paid a visit to StoryToys HQ!

It’s been a wildly busy time here at StoryToys over the past few years. Like any business challenged by the pandemic we’ve had to adapt and adjust and find ways to work remotely. We’ve also been churning out updates to our apps. This has meant hiring new talent around the world without meeting in person. And while we like to think we hire the best and the brightest it’s only recently that we’ve been able to take stock. Why do we make the apps we make? Who do we make them for?

So when an opportunity to invite Warren to Dublin arose, we jumped! It was a chance to pause and to remind ourselves and more deeply inform new staff about our core values.

Warren was gracious enough to give us a day long crash course of his Child Development teaching notes. He certainly crammed a lot into one day and we certainly enjoyed and were sometimes challenged by his perspective. Some of us gathered in StoryToys HQ while our international staff scattered around the globe dialed in via video conferencing.

So what did he cover?

A happy funny child is laughing and showing their hands dirty with paint
Baby Boy And Girl Playing With Toys In Playroom Together

Jean Piaget

Piaget is known for his theory of cognitive development which observes how kids develop intellectually throughout the different stages of childhood. He is credited as a pioneer of the constructivist theory, a theory which Warren Buckleitner subscribes to.

Piaget broke childhood development down into 4 discrete stages:

  1. The sensorimotor stage: The first stage of development lasts from birth to approximately age two.
  2. The preoperational stage: The second stage of development lasts around between the ages of 2 to 7 
  3. The concrete operational stage: The third stage of development lasts from the age of 7 to approximately age 11.
  4. And finally the formal operational stage: This  lasts from age 12 and into adulthood.

Since here at StoryToys we make apps for children aged primarily between the ages of 2 – 7 it was great to get acquainted with Piaget’s theories and how they can apply to app design.

BF Skinner

Skinner studied human behavior in an objective and scientific way. In particular Skinner identified reinforcement as a motivator  which strengthens certain behaviors. The two types of reinforcement he identified were positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. 

This is important for app makers and educators because they can influence how a child engages with content and learning. (We always err on the side of positive reinforcement!)

A smiling child having fun making fluffy slime.
Small child is exploring nature with a magnifying glass.

Ivan Pavlov

Pavlov noted that the animals salivated naturally when they were presented with food. He then trained a hungry dog to salivate at the sound of a metronome. In a nutshell he defined the idea of “conditioning”. Teachers can use classical conditioning to help children overcome anxiety and other negative thoughts. For instance, providing consistent reassurance, support and rewards can keep a child engaged in an activity which they might otherwise find daunting or uninteresting.

Maria Montessori

Warren Buckleitner thinks Maria Montessori would like iPads. It’s a controversial idea, but he did write a New York Times article about it explaining why.

Montessori created an education philosophy that fosters rigorous, self-motivated growth for children. Her goal was to nurture each child’s natural desire for knowledge, understanding, and respect by being child-centered.

Smiling mother and her toddler son playing with digital tablet at home
Young asian kid playing with color blocks at home

And much more besides…

Warren went into a lot more than the above, and we had a blast discussing and reviewing – not only our apps, but other apps on the market for children, and how they could be improved.

It was great food for thought and it’s always a good idea to occasionally bring in an expert in their field and ask them to pick holes in your work. You never know what you might learn!