Skip to main content

Elmo Eyes


SUNNYVALE, CA, United States – Recently, we announced the availability of new Sesame Workshop apps available for Nokia Lumia (like the Nokia Lumia 900) phones that are exclusives we’ve published in partnership.

Nokia has had a relationship with the Sesame Workshop dating back around four years, according to my conversation with Tico Ballagas and Mirjana Spasojevic, both of whom work on the Nokia end of the partnership with Sesame.

I spoke with Ballagas and Spasojevic to find out more about the educational aspects of the Lumia-based reading apps “Abby in Wonderland,” “Big Block Party” and “Color Carnival”.

The Nokia/Sesame partnership

Nokia and Sesame began working together 4 years ago. The two companies piloted a research program called Family Communications that was centered around how families connect. The project observed families in the Bay Area and documented how they communicated with family members overseas, separated by distance and time zone.

They came to the conclusion that family members under the age of seven were left out of rich communication because no applications or technologies were aimed at them. Meanwhile, Sesame wanted to publish and distribute digital content and they were the ideal partner for Nokia. Ballagas told us:

“Our two groups shared a common interest around connecting and educating children, even at a young age.”

First products

In 2009, the first product to come out the partnership was the Family Story Play, a physical book product that enabled grandchildren to read with their grandparents over the Internet. Nokia Conversations profiled Story Play in January, 2010.

After a few more iterations, it was decided to work to put the idea of reading together onto the mobile phone. While using a Nokia phone, parents could read with their child in a personal setting and ask questions back and forth regarding each page.

Dialogic reading

When I asked Ballgas more about the theory behind the reading applications, he discussed dialogic reading. The intent behind Sesame and Nokia’s work together is centered around dialogic reading, which addresses the primary problem of making sure children are prepared to learn when they enter school.

According to research, over a third of students lack the vocabulary, sentence structure and other basic skills that are required to do well in school. By utilizing picture books and encouraging dialogue between caretakers and young children, the students develop vocabulary and an interest in reading at an increased rate.

When a parent reads with their child in a dialogic fashion, they engage in short interactions that prompt the child to say something about the book, evaluate the child’s response, expands on the response by adding to it, and repeats the prompt back to the child.

Dialogic reading shows results: in fact, children who have been read to dialogically test well ahead around skills of language development.

The reading experience, in a mobile app

Building off the theory of dialogic reading, the three reading applications for Nokia Lumia are intended to design an experience that takes advantage of the features of the mobile phone and centers around the book itself. Ballagas said:

“We used interactivity to drive attention back to the book. In many apps today, interactivity takes a way from the reading experience, we wanted to avoid that.”

Elmo reads along with your child as he or she uses the app, exhibiting ongoing interest in the book. In essence, Elmo models dialogic behavior as he asks questions about the reading materials himself. The apps are structured in a way to encourage dialogue between parent and child.

“Sesame was a perfect partner because they pioneered the concept of co-viewing”, Ballagas said. With Sesame shows, they are structured in a way that stories are relevant to both parents and children so they’ll watch ant talk about the show together. This concept, also called joint media engagement, carries through to the reading apps.

Have you checked out the new offerings from Nokia and the Sesame Workshop? Do your kids enjoy them?