Zoe's Kindergarten encourages parents to come in and spend some time with the
kids. I've heard reports of other parents coming in and doing baking with the
kids or other activities at various times throughout the year.
Zoe and I had both wanted me to come in for something, but it had taken me
until the last few weeks of the year to get my act together and do something.
I'd thought about coming in and doing some baking, but that seemed rather done
to death already, and it's not like baking is really my thing, so I thought I'd
do something technological. I just wracked my brains for something low effort
and Kindergarten-age friendly.
The Kindergarten has a couple of eduss touch screens. They're just
some sort of large-screen with a bunch of inputs and outputs on them. I think
the Kindergarten mostly uses them for showing DVDs and hooking up a laptop and
possibly doing something interactive on them.
As they had HDMI input, and my Raspberry
Pi had HDMI output, it seemed like a no-brainer to do something using the
Raspberry Pi. I also thought hooking up the MaKey MaKey to it would make for a more
fun experience. I just needed to actually have it all do something,
and that's where I hit a bit of a creative brick wall.
I thought I'd just hack something together where based on different inputs on
the MaKey MaKey, a picture would get displayed and a sound played. Nothing
fancy at all. I really struggled to get a picture displayed full screen in a
time efficient manner. My Pi was running Raspbian, so it was relatively simple to
configure LightDM to
auto-login and auto-start something. I used triggerhappy to invoke
a shell script, which took care of playing a sound and an image.
Playing a sound was easy. Displaying an image less so, especially if I wanted
the image loaded fast. I really wanted to avoid having to execute an image
viewer every time an input fired, because that would be just way too slow. I
thought I'd found a suitable application in Geeqie, because it supported
being out of band managed, but it's problem was it also responded to the inputs
from the MaKey MaKey, so it became impossible to predictably display the right
image with the right input.
So the night before I was supposed to go to Kindergarten, I was up beating my
head against it, and decided to scrap it and go back to the drawing board. I
was looking around for a Kindergarten-friendly game that used just the arrow
keys, and I remembered the trusty old Frozen Bubble.
This ended up being absolutely perfect. It had enough flags to control
automatic startup, so I could kick it straight into a dumbed-down full screen 1
player game (--fullscreen --solo --no-time-limit)
The kids absolutely loved it. They were cycled through in groups of four and
all took turns having a little play. I brought a couple of heads of broccoli, a
zucchini and a potato with me. I started out using the two broccoli as left and
right and the zucchini to fire, but as it turns out, not all the kids were as
good with the "left" and "right" as Zoe, so I swapped one of the broccoli for a
potato and that made things a bit less ambiguous.
The responses from the kids were varied. Quite a few clearly had their minds
blown and wanted to know how the broccoli was controlling something on the
screen. Not all of them got the hang of the game play, but a lot did. Some
picked it up after having a play and then watching other kids play and then
came back for a more successful second attempt. Some weren't even sure what a
Overall, it was a very successful activity, and I'm glad I switched to Frozen
Bubble, because what I'd originally had wouldn't have held up to the way the
kids were using it. There was a lot of long holding/touching of the vegetables,
which would have fired hundreds of repeat events, and just totally overwhelmed
triggerhappy. Quite a few kids wanted to pick up and hold the vegetables
instead of just touch them to send an event. As it was, the Pi struggled to
play Frozen Bubble enough as it was.
The other lesson I learned pretty quickly was that an aluminium BBQ tray worked
a lot better as the grounding point for the MaKey MaKey than having to tether
an anti-static strap around each kid's ankle as they sat down in front of the
screen. Once I switched to the tray, I could rotate kids through the activity
I just wish I was a bit more creative, or there were more Kindergarten-friendly
arrow-key driven Linux applications out there, but I was happy with what I
managed to hack together with a fairly minimal amount of effort.