Ponycorns Come to Kindergarten

If you’ve been following the ponycorns saga, you know that i made a game with my 5-year-old daughter Cassandra at a weekend game jam, and it went viral. This isn’t the story of its unexpected success … i’ll save that story for another time. It’s still unfolding. This is the story of how my highest hope for Cassie (for the time being, anyway) came true.

Visualization FTW

Have you ever imagined how a scene in your life would play out, and when you reached that moment, everything went exactly as you envisioned it, as if you and everyone around you were following a script?

Dog Costume

Actually when i pictured it, it was more of an octopus ..

When i originally had the idea to work on a TOJam game with my daughter, i knew the ultimate pay-off would be the day she walked into her kindergarten class with our Blackberry Playbook, and showed the game off to the other kids. Short of “Daddy and i built a jetpack”, it’s probably one of the coolest show n’ tell sessions ever.

In the days after TOJam and all the fun Cassie and i had there, she would excitedly tell her classmates about the experience. True to form, her fellow five-year-olds actually started mocking her, saying “TOJam isn’t REAL. You’re making it up!” They even doubted the existence of “The Boss”, TOJam co-founder Jim McGinley, who took on a Santa Claus-like mystique following the jam.

Jim McGinley

He does have a magical twinkle, doesn’t he? (photo by Paul Hillier)

Eat THIS, Five-Year-Olds

All this doubt floating around at school, and Cassie’s Snuffleupagesque insistence that it really did happen, paved the way for a truly magical show n’ tell session today in her kindergarten class. There we were, just as i’d pictured it, showing the Playbook version to a formerly disbelieving group of kids as they sat, spellbound, on the storytime carpet.

Ponycorns at Kindergarten

Cassie’s finest hour.

Wit a grown-up telling the class all about it, there was no way the little TOJam-deniers could object. We told them all about how you get to stay up way past your bedtime there – even overnight – and that lots of people brought pillows and slept on the floor. We told them about the kitchen full of candy, where you could grab as much as you wanted and still go back for more. Cassie regaled them with the tale of how she ate two and a half bagels, and they made her fart, so i told her to stand in the designated “farting corner” to keep our work area bearable. (This is a story she gleefully repeated this evening when we were interviewed by BulletProof Radio.)

Ponycorns at Kindergarten

“What did you learn in school today?” “Ponycorns friggin’ RULE!”

The kids watched, transfixed, as Cassie showed them how to collect the first two ponycorns. We left it on a cliffhanger, but i wrote a little note that will go into each student’s Wednesday envelope that tells their parents how they can access the game to play the rest of it with their children. i also wrote that if the parents were interested in making games with their children, they could check out the fabulous Scratch.

Games for Change

To wrap it up, we did a “question” period. The questions were “Um, Cassie, i like the green ponycorn,” and “i like the colour purple that you used in your rainbows.” Then Cassie showed the children the plush ponycorns that her mom made for her, and we gave each of the students a little ponycorn button.

i really, truly hope that this will spark a desire in the kids and their parents to get more involved in technology, an area which is tragically stagnant in elementary-level education due to the age of the teachers and a lack of funding. This is the same school where i’m working with the principal to offer Scratch instruction to the grade three class, which may yet become a lunchtime program that all of the students can enjoy.

The ponycorn revolution is turning out to be more than just the story of a little girl making a game … i’d like it to be the story of kids, everywhere, using technology to create – not just to consume.

Cassie and her Ponycorns

21 thoughts on “Ponycorns Come to Kindergarten

  1. thatshelby

    I really do think that children should get more involved in game development. As a teen growing up too fast, I have one wish: To be younger. I wish I could have learned everything I know about game design today, when I was, say, 10. I’d have so much practice with programming, art, and music, that my games would be great. I would love to see more games like Ponycorns.

  2. Rob Anderson

    I so friggin love Ponycorns! This is such an amazing story Ryan and it is very inspiring. As a father I applaud you sir. I applaud you!

  3. Mary GIbson

    Yeah – nice to have your dream come true and the added bonus of proving those TOjam deniers wrong! I love the story and those pictures Ryan. You looked like you were having a ball too.

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  5. Joey H.

    As a “hardcore” gamer, I loved this. (Also my husband, a professional videogame programmer.) I really can’t stand all the blame levied at games for ruining our society and bringing the End Times or whatever, or people like Roger Ebert claiming they’re not art. Videogames are so accessible now that it makes good sense to use them as a canvas for a kid’s imagination. I donated a little something, not much, but I just wanted to show my support.

  6. Allison

    This really is such an inspiring story. I was fortunate enough to go to a private elementary school with a computer lab, where we learned to use the kid-friendly, but far from simplistic programs Microworlds and KidPix. We also learned photoshop basics, and flash in after school programs. It also probably helped that I grew up in a very computer savvy family for the early 90s. Comparatively, my boyfriend, who really is interested in game design, needs my help with simple photoshop.

    It amazes me what kids can already do with technology, today, and it would be fantastic to see that be integrated into their education as early as possible. While your daughter’s creative talent is certainly above par, many of her peers are likely equally capable of creating a game like Magical Ponycorn Adventure, if they had the resources to do so. I know I would have LOVED to bring my kindergarten creations to life, when I was her age.

    When you think about it, kids are probably the best suited for game design. They aren’t familiar with existing mechanics or concerned with appealing to a demographic. They don’t worry about the boundaries of reality or laws of physics. And because they’re so young, the ideas they come up with, even if they do echo established properties and concepts, come from a fresh, genuine place in their wide imagination.

  7. Adam

    Congratulations! I love the game. It’s fantastic that you are able to teach your child the joy of creating something and watching it take off; few get to enjoy that so young. Here’s looking forward to Ponycorn II: The Return of the Lemon ;)

  8. Sonia N. Lawrence

    five year olds friggin rule. Thank you for the full story and the link to scratch. My five year old played, loved it, and said “Can we meet the girl who made this one day?”. She was deeply impressed by Cassie’s work and I think she caught a glimpse of the possibilities. Once she hears the story of the farting, I think she might be hooked for life. Look out.

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    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      You see the thing next to the rock that doesn’t look important, or anything like a sign? It’s a sign, and it’s important. :)

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