The Wonderscope Los Angeles Community Reading Initiative brings AR education to nine schools and seven libraries.
Since first established back in 1988, LA’s BEST afterschool enrichment program has been providing support to over 25,000 elementary school students from 200 underprivileged schools using numerous initiatives designed to promote intellectual and social development.
Afterschool—a period during which school is over but many parents remain at work—is widely considered the most likely time of day for children to fall into dangerous, unpredictable behavior. LA’s BEST combats these developments by offering schools with the least resources the opportunity to provide its students with intellectual, creative, physical, and emotional support in the hopes of positively influencing underserved students during the most impressionable moments of their young lives.
This year, LA’s BEST teamed up with AR/VR/XR developer Within to introduce AR storytelling technology to ten different elementary schools and seven Los Angeles Public libraries. Using the companies award-winning children’s AR app, Wonderscope, hundreds of children were able to escape the classroom and journey into an augmented world powered by their own vocabulary.
The app, available now on iOS, features several augmented stories that will only progress after the user has correctly read a sentence relating to the plot. The stories are so fun and light-hearted, however, that the child doesn’t even realize they’re actually improving their reading comprehension.
“I see the most excitement taking place when the children see and hear the stories come to life,” said Caitlin Quinn, a children’s librarian at the Eagle Rock branch of the LAPL. “Many of these programs offer participants of all ages and backgrounds an opportunity to experiment with new technologies hands-on and a space to use their imaginations to take things to the next level.”
I was lucky enough to attend one of these events last week when Within stopped by Stoner Elementary to give students a taste of their augmented magic. My expectations leading up to the program were mixed, as I wondered how interested a group of 5 to 10 year-olds would respond to AR technology.
After viewing a brief 2D video detailing how to operate the application, the students of Stoner Elementary dove head-first fearlessly into the experience, immediately making their way to empty portions of the classroom in order to properly enjoy their adventure.
As I watched the mix of awe and excitement on the faces of each student as they saw their stories come to life around them in real-time, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was witnessing the dawn of a new era in child education.
“Being able to pilot this AR storytime program is a great learning opportunity for staff and the participants — both parents and students,” said Vivienne Byrd, Librarian III, Lead on Full STEAM Ahead & Citizen Science Initiative, LAPL, Exploration & Creativity Department. “Within has been very helpful in every possible way to make this a program that is suitable for a public library setting.”
With the adoption of AR-based educational programming, LA’s BEST further positions themselves as not only one of the most generous and far-reaching afterschool enrichment programs in California, but one of the most forward-thinking. It’s clear the program has a fundamental understanding of the needs and desires of modern day elementary school students, which is why they’re so adamant about exposing kids to this game-changing technology so early in their lives.
Within’s Wonderscope AR app is available free on compatible iOS devices, with an official Android release planned in the near future. The app currently features three different stories designed to get children excited about reading: A Brief History of Stunts by Astounding People, Little Red the Inventor and Wonder’s Land Ringmaster Wanted.
While Little Red the Inventor is available free alongside the app, the other two stories cost $4.99 each. More stories are reportedly in development. To keep up on all the new Wonderscope AR stories Within is working on, be sure to follow @WonderscopeApp on Twitter.