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When we first learned about Kickstarter two years ago it was because of this watch project (featured right) posted by Scott Wilson + MINIMAL. The prototype that Wilson wanted to build into a full consumer product was slick and very innovative, and he was seeking $15K but nearly raised $1M! What piqued our interest beyond the watch itself was the concept behind Kickstarter of crowd-funding projects. What a great idea and something perfect for entrepreneurs like us! The website affords individuals and businesses the opportunity to market test their ideas, – be it product, artwork, song, almost anything creative – potentially gain traction for the projects the community supports, and raise some funds from individuals before going into full production for a mass market. For individuals willing to pledge a modest amount (most bids average $50) to support projects that they like, they will receive rewards in return, which are often products at a discount or fun intangible things like naming rights for a clothing company's new tie line. A true win-win situation.

After many years of being a Kickstarter fan, we have decided to launch our own project today, The Grunion Run Kickstarter Project, in an effort to raise awareness and funds for The Grunion Run's new 2013 line of products – ties + pocket squares. We're hopeful that our project will be fully funded as it would be further proof that we're on the right track and reinforces the positive feedback that we've received for the company so far. If nothing else, it will be an interesting process to follow and an experience that we've been seeking for sometime. Check out the Kickstarter Project here and let us know what you think.

– Kevin
 
Almost every child that we've been around loves smart devices like the iPhone and iPad. I've lost count the number of times I've seen a child throw a tantrum when his or her parent takes back their device. (I obviously spend a lot of time around spoiled children;) Our 3yr old nephew uses his mom's iPhone like a mini Computer Science major; these devices are so intuitive that even the most untrained hands can manipulate them. This is the world we live in. Technology is becoming more and more pervasive by the year and even our littlest ones can't seem to avoid it. Many, in fact, relishing the chance to interact with it.

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The technology boom at hand is offering an interesting opportunity. We, as parents, must start to make some difficult decions in these unchartered times about how much technology we are willing to expose our young children (birth to six) to. Unlike with the rise of video games of the '80s when playing Mario Bros. was clearly for entertainment rather than stimulating brain cells, today it would be fair for some developers to argue that their programs, digital books, mobile apps, etc. actually offer tremendous educational value. So, how do we decide if the learning opportunity is worth our child spending hours in front of a screen?

I was recently discussing the subject with Sharon who writes the mommy blog, A Dollop of Me. I had asked Sharon if she was interested in reviewing our new preschool app - Letter Buddies Alphabet Discovery - but she informed me that she doesn't own an iPad. She was curious about my thoughts on whether digital products, like our educational iPad apps, are really having a positive effect on learning at these early years. Clearly they're more educational than playing Angry Birds, but are they better than reading a book? As I told Sharon, I don't think there's a widely accepted answer. I believe there are a lot of educational benefits, but the jury is still out on whether technology is having the kind of meaningful impact on children's learning that we all hope it would have. While those of us who create digital products for early childhood education, be it mobile apps, online educational games, video games or the like, feel strongly that we're bringing something positive to the table, I don't think we've been definitively proven right. Not yet. Much of what we believe is subjective and based on anecdotal experiences as seen on a case-by-case basis. For parents, like Sharon, who are choosing to limit the amount of screen time their child experiences in the early years in favor of more traditional childhood activities, there is certainly nothing definitive to say that their child is missing out on a learning opportunity. 

As with many parenting decisions, choosing how much technology to expose your child to is very personal with parents running the decision gamut from those willing to buy their 2-yr old an iPad to parents who shun technology all together. The only right answer is whatever you as the parent thinks is best. As far as The Dragon is concerned, we are going to land somewhere in the middle. Based on our work, you could probably guess that we believe things like digital apps for children can have a positive impact, but we also believe finding a balance between screen time, books, arts & crafts, and good-old-fashioned running around is the best answer. Learning comes in so many forms, so why not take advantage of the myriad of options that are available to kids whether that means interacting with an iPad app or spending the afternoon at the museum. How much screen time we will ultimately expose The Dragon to will depend on how she responds and where her interests will lie. We believe every child is different, and how best to teach them should be decided on a case-by-case basis.



Digital



VS.
Analog

As this generation grows up over the next 20 years, there will be more evidence about the impact technology is having on our kids' learning. So whether we want it or not, our kids are the guinea pigs. We believe that connecting learning and technology is the obvious next step, and offers some real opportunities that traditional mediums lack. One of the most compelling reason for digital learning products is that they can offer better engagement. Animation, video, sound effects, and music provide a multi-sensory experience that in many cases can be more interesting and engaging than a flash card or book (this is coming from a book publishers too!).  If something (an app, book, craft, etc.) is able to hold a child's attention for a meaningful amount of time, then there's a fighting chance that the child will be able to learn from the experience. In contrast, if a child is disinterested in what they're doing, then how could we expect them to be in the right state of mind to concentrate and learn?  
The mobile apps that we've created offer a range of educational opportunities from stimulating imagination, practicing phonics, to reading basic sentences. While we think there is a positive impact to be had by using products like ours, we are also realistic that not every digital product is able to affect learning. In the end, parents must be involved in their child's education. A parent's role should be to enhance and shape how and what a child is learning regardless of the learning tool. In the early years, it's not enough to simply plop your child down with an iPad or book and expect learning magic to happen. In the coming weeks and months, we will be launching a series of blog posts and videos that we hope will offer ideas for how to more effectively use a range of products (digital and not) to impact a child's learning. There's no easy solution, but a consistent, thoughtful balanced approach can help to foster good learning habits and build a child's enthusiasm for learning – the type of foundation that we believe all children deserve.

Cheers,
Kevin
 
One of the really fun things that Yun and I did in preparing for The Dragon's arrival was to transform our rather plain, white-walled 2nd bedroom into a proper nursery. We wanted to make sure it would have the right feel for when our little bundle would come home from the hospital. While we decided against painting the walls, we added lots of color with wall decals and artwork from some of our favorite artists, giving the room some life, making it fun, bright and whimsical.

Check out some of what we did below:
This was a wedding gift from me to Yun. It's by one of our favorite artists – Mackenzie Thorpe's "Walking on Love".
These two prints are by the super talented Japanese artist - Yoshitomo Nara. We actually purchased a book of his artwork, cut out some of the pieces we liked the best and put them in frames we purchased at IKEA. Yun loves the DIY art projects!
This is a cute piece we found in Venice, CA at great little Scandinavian design shop – Huset. It's by a Swedish artist, Stina Wiren, called Brokiga Kalas.
Yun found some fun wall decals that we've used to surround The Dragon's crib. She often wakes up and talks to her new animal friends before beckoning her parents into the room.
This was a free poster Yun had picked up in Toronto years ago. We've had it all these year without ever framing it until now. I'm glad we held onto it since it complements the other colorful pieces in the room.
 
 
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Alphabet Discovery is the second educational app by Cavallo Media Group featuring the popular Letter Buddies characters. Designed specifically for the iPad, Alphabet Discovery encourages learners to explore a whimsical, animated alphabet world. Children will uncover hidden surprises, interacting with objects and characters that will help them to learn to recognize letters, acquire vocabulary, practice oral language skills and more!

While playing the app, children can sing along to a Letter Buddies Alphabet Discovery’s original version of the “Alphabet Song”.  With over 70 animations to explore and learn from, this app will keep your child engaged with new things to discover at every turn!

AVAILABLE ON THE APPLE APP STORE FOR $1.99 - Click HERE

Features:
- Interact with 26 Letter Buddies Characters
- Text boxes show relevant vocabulary
- Multiple words relating to each letter of the alphabet
- Screen remains uncluttered with 3-5 characters per ‘board’
- Arrows allow the user to easily navigate forwards or backwards
- Humorous animations with unexpected twists

Relevant Skills Introduced:
- Letter Recognition
- Phonemic Awareness
- Vocabulary Acquisition
- Oral Language Development



Screenshots from the app:
ABCD Screen
EFG Screen
HIJK Screen
LMNOP Screen
QRS Screen
TUV Screen
WXYZ Screen
 
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After many months in the making, we're happy to release a glimpse of our newest Letter Buddies App – Letter Buddies Alphabet Discovery. Unlike its predecessor  Letter Buddies AlphaBooks, this next installment in the LB series is a departure from a traditional book format. Rather, Alphabet Discovery encourages the child to explore seven unique boards, and to discover hidden objects and animations. Children will learn vocabulary associated with each letter in the alphabet, practice letter recognition and more. With over 70 different animations, Letter Buddies Alphabet Discovery promises to add some fun and humor to early childhood learning.

See the Trailer and Screenshots of the app below:

With fingers crossed, we hope to release this app in the Apple App Store in the coming weeks! If you'd like receive a notification when the app becomes available, please join our mailing list here or become a Facebook Fan.

We look forward to hearing your feedback and hope you're little ones will enjoy our latest release!

- Kevin
 
As a children’s book publisher and app developer, I’m often asked, by parents and teachers alike, to recommend materials for young children that will support their reading development. I certainly have a list of favorite titles, but it’s been researched and well documented that any type of reading with a child is an invaluable way to foster literacy. So, reading anything that is of interest to your little ones is definitely encouraged. That said, I do believe it is also critically important to understand how various categories of reading differ and how these differences impact a child’s learning.

For simplicity’s sake, there are two groups of reading experiences that I want to highlight here: shared reading and independent reading. As you can tell by their names, shared reading is intended as a joint reading experience between an adult and a child, like story time before bed, while independent reading focuses on a young reader working on their own with materials written to their level that allows them to systematically grow into a fluent reader. It’s important to know the differences between each category so that as a parent or caretaker, whether you’re shopping in a bookstore or in the App Store, you’re selecting the proper materials to enhance the skills on which you want your child focusing. Whether your child is reading a book or using a book app on the iPhone or iPad, choosing the right shared or independent reading resource will affect what your child will get out of the experience.

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Shared Reading: The books that often come to mind when we think about story time, the ones with creative stories, imaginative illustrations and interesting text, are often most appropriate for shared reading. Because of their more complex language and storylines, these books are intended to be read to a child by an adult rather than for a child to tackle on their own. When I think of story time, whimsical books from the Dr. Seuss catalog are what I picture. Books like The Cat in The Hat are terrific storybooks because, first and foremost, they’re fun and captivating and just as importantly, they introduce children to rich text that helps to expand their vocabulary and their imaginations. The key aspect to shared reading experiences like The Cat in The Hat is that an adult is reading aloud to a child so that they can hear the text, follow the illustrations, and comprehend the story even though they probably can’t read many of the words by themselves. Another part of shared reading is repeatedly reading the same story over-and-over, which is something children seem to instinctively want without prompting. Repeated readings foster a child’s comprehension of the story as well as permitting them repeat exposure to complex language and vocabulary that might otherwise not be introduced to them in any other context. Shared reading books are perfect for introducing more challenging language, modeling how sentences are read, and exposing children to concepts that could only be illuminated in a shared experience.


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Independent Reading: Independent reading is often ignored and overlooked because the resources used can seem overly simple and unsophisticated, but independent reading is an integral part to any child’s learning to read on their own. Books like those from the Dick and Jane series are a perfect example of independent reading resources; they are very simple stories with repetitive text and while admittedly the storylines and text may not be as imaginative as Dr. Seuss, they are exactly what a budding reader should have in front of them to build the confidence to read independently. What should you be looking for in the text to know that it is intended for independent reading? Simple text  that is appropriate for beginning readers is characterized by short sentences comprised of basic, recognizable words, and sentence structures and vocabulary that is repeated over and over. For example, view this sample text from a Dick and Jane book:

  • Come, Dick
  • Come and see.
  • Come, come.
  • Come and see.
  • Come and see Spot.

Compared to most storybooks, it’s easy to see why most parents would naturally select a book with a more exciting story. The text in independent reading books is generally, in a word, “boring”, but this is on purpose so children can practice their reading skills independently! It’s important to remember that in the world of a child, the ability to master vocabulary and to gain confidence in their ability to read is an exciting development, and as such, they will not view these books as boring as an adult may. Even for very young children, having them “read to you” regardless if the words are read correctly, is a good way of encouraging independent reading skills. One last thing to note, books for independent reading are often leveled, meaning the complexity of the text increases gradually, in a controlled manner, so that skills and language are built upon in a systematic way that matches the ability of the child. 

So, when you’re hunting around for books or apps for your children, I would encourage you to look for both independent and shared reading experiences. Exposure to both types of readers is important in building your child’s reading skills. Along with the independent reading apps Yun and I have developed, Letter Buddies AlphaBooks and Zoozoo Readables, here are some of my favorite shared reading and independent reading apps for the iPhone and/or iPad:

Shared Reading: The Cat in the Hat; Moo, Baa, La, La, La; The Monster at the End of this Book; The Going to Bed Book, Travel with Bella

Independent Reading: I See Animals at the Zoo, Bob Books, Sentence Reading Magic

-- Kevin

 
Well, I was shocked to discover that it has been nearly a year since our last post to the KandY Shoppe. Shame on us! We apologize for the not so brief intermission, but oh how time flies when you're feeling overwhelmed... These past twelve months, we learned a lot and have much to share about our experiences. For one, we quickly discovered how challenging it is to regularly write a blog when the rest of your life is super, crazy busy. Something had to give and unfortunately for our loyal readers, it was the KandY Shoppe blog. That said, we're back and ready to pick up where we left off – sharing our experiences as entrepreneurs (and now parents) as we continue to forge ahead with our ventures and adventures! We endeavor to write regularly about our lives, the things we discover as entrepreneurs, and whatever else we find interesting day in and day out!

The last twelve months can be summed up as follows: Yun started working on a new venture (The Grunion Run), we found out Yun was pregnant, Yun launched The Grunion Run in March, we started working on a new educational app for the Letter Buddies (launching soon), Yun and I were graced with a healthy baby girl (yay!), we started work to redesign the Letter Buddies website (to be released in Aug) and that, more or less, covers it.

Needless to say, the most exciting change has been the addition of our daughter ("The Dragon") into our already crazy mix. While Yun and I have been lucky to practice our parenting skills these past five years on our eight unsuspecting nieces and nephews (all under the age of six), I think all parents can attest that nothing can quite get you 'ready' for taking care of your first child. The past eight weeks since our Little Dragon was born have been the most satisfying, exhilarating, unrelentingly exhausting and humbling two months of my life. Balancing parenting, work and my sports addiction has been extremely challenging, but as this post serves to prove (I hope!), we are starting to find our groove and our new "normal" seems less chaotic and more manageable every day.

As a dad who works from home, it is wonderful to be able to see my daughter anytime that I want, and for Yun, I'm able to share some of the day-to-day childcare responsibilities so that things aren't so overwhelming for either one of us. It was already a big adjustment to go from working in an office to working at home, but the adjustment to working at home with a newborn has been that much more challenging. In particular, finding a consistent time to work seems near impossible (though I'm told this should improve at 3 months; I will let you know) – I find myself sneaking 45 minute work windows at odd moments throughout the day with the only dependable block of work time being from 9pm to 4am, not exactly when I tend to be firing on all cylinders, but beggars can't be choosers. Alas, like every other challenge that we've faced since launching our own company 6 years ago, we again have to adjust quickly to our new life, and continue to remain positive as we figure out how to balance the needs of our growing family with our ever-growing work.

Yun and I are so excited about this next chapter and know The Dragon is going to bring us much joy and happiness. We only hope that we will be able to provide our daughter everything she needs and much of what she may want, all the while figuring how best to successfully pursue our various entrepreneurial interests! Stay tuned!

Cheers!
Kevin
 
A few months ago, we showed you the preview of our second app that we were busy working on. Now we are happy to announce that our new app, Zoozoo Readables for iPad, iPhone, + iPod Touch has finally launched in the Apple apps store!

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The Zoozoo Readables app is adapted from a popular series that we published for education called Zoozoo Into the Wild. It features eight animal stories that have been lovingly illustrated and animated. We are excited about the addition of animation to the Zoozoo Readables! It is the next evolution in our app development education that began earlier this year with the launch of our Letter Buddies AlphaBooks app.

Check out the video above to learn more about Zoozoo Readables or visit the Apple apps store to download the full or free versions of the app. Hope you enjoy!

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Yun and I know that the ultimate success of Cavallo Media will depend greatly on our ability to establish our brands and products in a new market — for parents and kids — that extends beyond our old market — schools.  Creating brand awareness is a significant hurdle for all budding consumer product companies, and building the Letter Buddies brand amongst potential early childhood customers has been our top priority so far. While we've made some headway on this front since launching our collection of four Letter Buddies AlphaBooks apps, which together have been downloaded by a modest several thousand people around the world, we don't yet feel like we've been able to connect with our customer base in a meaningful way. In part, this is due to how closed Apple's system is, which prevents us from actually knowing or communicating with whomever is downloading and buying our apps. 

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In the past, when we were primarily focused on creating products for the educational school market, it was easier to connect with our customers — teachers — to get their feedback on products, marketing, etc. One of the ways we were able to do that was to attend local conferences. Twenty times or so a year we would travel to some far off part of America to attend an early childhood reading conference. While visiting small cities, like Covington, KY, wouldn't be considered glamorous to most, spending time in places that I might not otherwise have reason to set foot was actually an unexpected bonus of the work. I loved it, with the exception of the very sad Springfield, IL — sorry Springfield, it's the truth. Not only was exploring these smaller cities fun, but by going to local reading conferences, I was able to meet our customers face-to-face. I could speak with teachers and discuss what they liked about our products and what they would like to see us develop next. I could get some real-time feedback on what we needed to do to accentuate the areas that were strengths and improve the areas that were weaknesses. It was an invaluable part of our growth and development.

Now that we've entered this digital market, we're searching for new ways to dialogue with our customers the way we used to at local conferences. We've been lucky to have a number of mommy bloggers review our Letter Buddies app, which has given us some great feedback, but we haven't connected with our customers in as broad a way as we would like. The need for creating a "social media" presence to enable these interactions, while obvious, is easier said then done. As an initial step, we recently launched our own Cavallo Media Fan Page, and last week we ran our first Facebook promotion to find out what could happen. 

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When we launched our promotion - giving away Letter Buddies Activity Worksheets - we had about 30 Facebook fans, and at last count our promotion has helped us to add about 80 more. Nearly 300% growth! Considering that Lady Gaga has over 40 MILLION FANS, you're probably asking yourself why 100+ fans would be exciting. Fair question. While we don't yet have the following of Gaga, running our promotion is hopefully the start for us to figure out how to use social media to better know our new customer base. Not only did we add a number of fans but more importantly, we began having those important conversations that help good companies know what their customers really want. The Cavallo Media fan page is a great venue for connecting with customers, and it is fun to begin having those customer conversations again. - K