BEHIND THE SCENES

Nurturing the Environmentalists of Tomorrow

Tap to learn how Tinybop’s nature-themed apps educate and challenge.

For the designers, storytellers, and coders at Tinybop, teaching isn’t just about spouting facts. To encourage kids to be better stewards of Earth, the studio creates virtual play areas where they can explore and discover everything from how bats see at night to how rain clouds form.

On Earth Day, and every day, Tinybop’s educational apps are an irresistible way to engage with nature. How does the team do it? Senior designer Jeanelle Mak and user experience research lead Ashley Mannetta discuss their approach.

Make volcanoes explode—without the baking soda and vinegar—in The Earth by Tinybop.

Make connections

Explaining that everything on Earth is connected is no easy task—especially when your audience includes 6-year-olds. That’s why Tinybop’s Coral Reef has such a tight focus, says Mak. Instead of showing the entire ocean, the app zooms in on the interactions of one small ecosystem. Planting seagrass seeds lets kids understand how a “producer” (an organism that makes its own food) feeds fish and gives crabs a place to lay eggs. When cleaner fish eat algae off a sea turtle’s shell, that’s a symbiotic relationship in action.

With its Plants app, Tinybop went the other direction, including not just vegetation but also deer, bears, and other animals. In this case, the company’s early play tests found that featuring flora and fauna gave kids a bigger-picture view of how the two work together—and generated more excitement for our leafy friends, says Mak.

Coral Reef by Tinybop teaches how an array of sea creatures contribute to a delicate ecosystem.

Keep it familiar

For the developers, choosing a topic that match kids’ experiences is essential to capturing their attention. The species in Coral Reef may be exotic, for example, but they’re creatures many children have seen at an aquarium or tidepool. Conversely, Mannetta explains, the team hopes that playing Plants or Mammals will inspire kids to expand their knowledge by visiting a park or zoo.

Young users can explore the bones and muscles of a tiger, a bat, and more.

Create parallels

To help kids realize how their own bodies and those of animals are related, Tinybop modeled Mammals after its earlier The Human Body app, Mannetta says. Switching between the two, young users can explore the bones and muscles of a tiger, a bat, and more—then compare them to our own.

In Plants by Tinybop, control the weather, plant seeds, and observe the life cycle of plants.

Make the abstract concrete

It can take years or even decades to see the effect our actions have on the environment—but The Earth makes slow processes visible. In a field with a factory and an oil pump, kids can add smokestacks and sludge-spewing pipes, or windmills and electric charging stations. Depending on their choices, the sky might darken while the stream grows murky—or it could all gradually clear up. Being able to see these changes happen will hopefully help kids understand and remember the impact they can have, Mannetta tells us.

Tinybop has never shied away from challenging its audience.

Don’t dumb it down

Tinybop has never shied away from challenging its audience or “keeping things real,” Mak explains. That’s why Coral Reef shows (in its gentle way) starfish feeding off the carcass of a shark, for example, and why Mammals has a joey nursing inside a kangaroo’s pouch.

Meanwhile, Weather lets children explore often devastating natural events like hurricanes and tornadoes. Mannetta views this part of the app as a “safe space” where kids can develop a healthy understanding of and respect for elements that might be frightening in real life.

Look to the skies in Weather by Tinybop. Draw clouds, make it rain, and learn about the science of storms.

Quirky is cool

Tinybop has never shied away from challenging its audience or “keeping things real,” Mak explains. That’s why Coral Reef shows (in its gentle way) starfish feeding off the carcass of a shark, for example, and why Mammals has a joey nursing inside a kangaroo’s pouch. Meanwhile, Weather lets children explore often devastating natural events like hurricanes and tornadoes. Mannetta views this part of the app as a “safe space” where kids can develop a healthy understanding of and respect for elements that might be frightening in real life.

    Coral Reef by Tinybop

    A virtual aquarium!

    VIEW

    The Earth by Tinybop

    Volcanoes, glaciers & more!

    VIEW

    The Human Body by Tinybop

    Explore & learn anatomy!

    VIEW

    Mammals by Tinybop

    For kids who love animals.

    VIEW

    Plants by Tinybop

    Discover nature’s wonders.

    VIEW

    Weather by Tinybop

    Explore the science of storms.

    VIEW