Molly’s World is an iPad app for young children that builds on their affinity with nature, love of drawing and eagerness to learn. It consists of two realms: a personal ‘virtual bedroom’ (where they can ‘Make with Molly’, create digital collections, and communicate with friends); and a shared ‘world’, in which they join Molly and her friends Patch and Bouncer on journeys of exploration through nature and diverse cultures. Things made in the bedroom can, with help from the Bank of Mum and Dad, become real everyday goods in the home. The app is owned by a non-profit company and can be used to create its own content: with the support of numerous Friends of Molly we hope it will grow oganically and that its core functions will remain free to all users.
Molly was born in Albany Primary school in Cardiff, and without her there would be no app. She was drawn in pencil and given a coat of ‘digital fur’ scanned from a moss agate. In a short animation we made, she falls while climbing a cliff. At its ‘première’ a girl called out ‘Oh, no! Will she be all right?’: noticing she was crying I quickly reassured her. I put the animation on the chidren’s iPads and several weeks later asked if she had watched it again: ‘I watch it every day,’ she assured me. The children drew many delightful cats in that first workshop, but Molly stood out: she has that rare thing, genuine ‘character’, looking by turns a mischievous know-all and a loving friend. She captivated me, and she captivates children. The head teacher in another school told me that children would take advice from Molly more readily than from teachers or parents. I realised she could become the centre of a creative and educational ‘world’.
Using ‘digital paints’ captured from minerals, motifs can be drawn and coloured, and then combined into pictures, designs, patterns and animations. The interface to the digital tools are the surfaces and objects in the bedroom, which becomes a ‘live’ exhibit: when, for example, a pattern is created for the walls or duvet cover, it appears in the room – which can be continually updated. All files are stored in layers and can be shared as ‘work in progress’ with friends who can make their own inputs: the creative possibilities with animated stories in particular are obvious. Objects in the ‘public world’ (such as fossils and stones from a game called ‘Beachcombing with Molly’) can form part of personal collections, as can stamps on communications from Molly or on greetings made to send to family and friends.
The ‘public’ interface is attuned to small fingers and good memories, and the ‘world’ is designed to wander around and linger in, not – like adult websites – for rapid information retrieval. It teems with opportunities to explore, from ocean depths in the MollySub to outer space in the MollyRocket, from Molly’s Museum to nature walks and safaris. Most content is presented as conversations between eagerto-learn Patch and know-all Molly. They can be listened to as well as read, and combining different languages can help with the acquisition of a second. Patch’s balloon takes you to the Fields of Knowledge (below), an endlessly ramifying network of inter-related topics. Children can also enjoy adventures in a mysterious world called ‘Alciteland’ (bottom) – captured from calcite crystals with an optical microscope.
The strands of Molly’s World combine in ‘Global Projects’ which celebrate biodiversity and introduce threats to Earth’s health. Using the work of many children we will create artwoks to draw novel attention to the challenges we face, and with the help of expert advisors, four projects will be run in 2021-22: Coral Reefs (Professor David Smith, Chief Scientific Officer to reef-restoration projects sponsored by Mars); Antarctica (Dr Alison Banwell, a glaciologist at U. Colorado Boulder, supported by a grant from the US National Science Foundation); Wildflower Meadows (Professor Dave Goulson, a leading entomologist and founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust); and Oceans (Professor Richard Thompson FRS, a marine biologist and expert on plastic pollution).
Molly’s World is designed to be ‘self-replicating’: much of the content can be created using the app and we are recruiting people world-wide who are willing to become ‘Friends of Molly’ and help with the app’s development. These include photographers, people with particular fascinations and skills of interest to children, parents and anyone willing to support the app financially. A major aim of Molly’s World is to give children personal glimpses of the cultural and natural riches of the ‘real’ world, and to that end we are appointing ‘Global Correspondents’ willing to make short videos using a simple, purpose-made app that works on both iPhones and Android devices. To ensure necessary safeguarding, all contributions will be vetted by eye.