What's The Story? - Helping Kids in Using the Internet for Creative Storytelling and Publishing
Since the 80's, a wealth of software programs and instructional lessons became available to teach children traditional literacy skills in a structured way. However, few offer opportunities and tools for learning new-media literacy skills, such as writing and designing, animating and publishing within an online community. Back in 1996, we worked with designers and writers to create a "beginner's Internet publishing environment" on MaMaMeida.com. Our goal was to promote artistic expression and digital literacy for children on the Internet.
We know that kids have many wonderful stories to tell. We also know that they like to do free-form writing, use invented spelling, and make their stories funny, surprising, and colorful. In the digital age, however, kids want to invent narratives with more than just words and static pictures. These days, kids want to (and can) add to their stories animations, sound effects, moving characters, and colorful scenes. Therefore, What's The Story? was created by MaMaMedia in 1996. Our strategy was to design a simple tool, to teach kids about writing within an online publishing community; create software on the Net that would inspire them to generate animated stories and share their voices, imagery, and creativity online - with their families and kids from all around the world. We wanted to allow kids to save their stories as they worked on them, and look for writing ideas from stories created by other children. We also knew that sharing and publishing would be a great motivator for children's writing.
What's the Story? offers 12 different themed "scenes" for children to choose from, including Basketball, Crazy Class, Time Machines, Pirates, Jungles, BBQ Party, and Oceans. Within each scene, there are 4-5 locations on the "stage," and kids can choose one of 12-15 animated characters to build their unique stories. Once they've created and saved their scene, children use an easy-to-use word processor, write a text-based narrative that tells their story. The story can be short or long, structured or not, funny, wacky, or sad. Children can save their story and come back to improve it whenever they wish. They can submit their finished stories to be published on MaMaMedia.com "Hall of Fame," and each week, a "Story of the Week" is selected and highlighted on the website's homepage and in other places on the site.
Over two million stories were created by children using this tool. During 9/1998-3/2002 about 805,000 stories were submitted to the MaMaMedia.com Hall of Fame -- by children of various ages and nationalities, boys as well as girls. Some stories are wacky some are very serious. Most of them are quite long, written by children at home as a new form of after-school play. What's the Story? has inspired many young children to use a simple Internet-based story tool within a global environment for their playful writing, creative thinking, and expressive publishing online.