Can Augmented Reality Kickstart a New Wave of Storytime?

Within’s Community Reading Initiative pairs kids with iPads loaded with the award-winning AR app, Wonderscope, designed to encourage movement, reading aloud and exploration.

Story time has sprung to life this month as hundreds of Los Angeles school children are receiving the chance to interact with a wild and wonderful assortment of characters through the magic of augmented reality. The extraordinary experience comes courtesy of Within, which has teamed up with Los Angeles Public Libraries and LA’s BEST afterschool enrichment program for the Wonderscope Los Angeles Community Reading Initiative.

Currently offered at various LA’s BEST school sites, the initiative features 30 iPads loaded with Within’s award-winning AR children’s app, Wonderscope. The iPads will rotate between nine schools over a period of three weeks. They will also appear at seven library branches per day during the week of April 15th, which marks Los Angeles Unified School District’s spring break.

Since it launched late last year, Wonderscope has attracted attention from educators for its unique ability to get kids excited about reading. The free app currently features three stories — A Brief History of Stunts by Astounding People, Little Red the Inventor and Wonder’s Land Ringmaster Wanted — that encourage children to read aloud in order to help a variety of fascinating characters overcome obstacles to achieve big goals.

Children actively engage with the stories, using their bodies to move around and looking through — rather than at — their screen as adventures unfold in real time, set in whatever room a child happens to occupy at the time.

“I see the most excitement taking place when the children see and hear the stories come to life,” said Caitlin Quinn, a children’s librarian at the Eagle Rock branch of the LAPL, who facilitates a variety of STEAM programs throughout the year. “Many of these programs offer participants of all ages and backgrounds an opportunity to experiment with new technologies hands-on and a space to use their imaginations to take things to the next level.”

Since AR is a new technology that many educators have not yet had access to, Within is providing a variety of support materials to aid in the learning process, including an AR 101 video, as well as suggested lesson plans complete with reading comprehension questions. Within employees will also attend select sessions in order to answer questions, observe and support the learning process.

“Being able to pilot this AR storytime program is a great learning opportunity for staff and the participants — both parents and students,” said Vivienne Byrd, Librarian III, Lead on Full STEAM Ahead & Citizen Science Initiative, LAPL, Exploration & Creativity Department. “Within has been very helpful in every possible way to make this a program that is suitable for a public library setting.”

Eric Gurna, president and CEO of LA’s BEST said that children need to practice reading in different ways: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and through the use of engaging technologies.

“The important thing for us at LA’s BEST is that children are engaged in the process and enjoy reading — that they see it is as fun and useful, not simply a chore,” Gurna said. “Our staff are endlessly creative at finding ways to engage children in the joy of reading, and we are always happy to find partners who share and feed that creativity.”

Ninety percent of the kids that LA’s BEST serves daily qualify for free lunch at school, Gurna added, which is why it’s especially important that they have the same access to new technology as their more affluent peers.

“Teachers are doing this, libraries are doing it, they’re finding real value in it,” said Daniel Coplon, Within’s Senior Business Development Manager. “It’s simple to execute so we see Wonderscope as a great confidence building tool.”

Coplon has spent time talking to teachers about their biggest challenges, and one of the things he has gleaned is that they are particularly focussed on what is called “differentiated learning,” which means that not every student learns in the same way, and that educators need to be flexible in their approach to teaching.

Wonderscope hits the right notes for a variety of learners since it is experiential, has plenty of visual cues and champions learning through doing, in this case, by actually reading words aloud to drive the action of a story.

The host libraries in this initial effort are located throughout the city, including branches in Watts, Wilmington, Chinatown, Silver Lake, Echo Park, Eagle Rock and Lincoln Heights. The LAPL system serves the largest population of any public library system in the country and has a remarkable track record of community outreach.

Hundreds or enrolled studentes are expected to engage in the initiative through LA’s BEST, which serves 25,000 kids daily across 200 locations, with a focus on helping children in underserved communities.

For full details, dates and locations participating in the Wonderscope L.A. Community Reading Initiative, please visit the Wonderscope website.