By Marc Reekers on February 8th, 2012
Ranj developed Juf-in-a-Box, an innovative method for preparatory writing, based on gaming principles. It is intended to address fine motor skill problems that are common in primary schools. The game is designed for children aged 4 to 6 years. By playing Juf-in-a-Box students are motivated to perform writing exercises which they otherwise would find boring. Students can work at their own speed, both individually and under supervision, and there is extra attention for students who need it. In classical writing methods there is often not enough time to do this. This article shows what considerations have played a role in the design of this serious health game.
The setting of the game is a zoo full with monsters and fantasy animals. The player has the task to take care of the monsters. The design is clear and easy on the eye. With this the young target group has been taken into account. Monsters can’t be too scary. All feedback is in audio, since the target group can’t read yet, and interaction and interface are as simple and intuitive as possible. The design of the monsters was based on recognition and familiarity. The monsters are made up of recognizable animals.
What is expected from the player should be apparent from the form of the monsters and the animations and therefore be as intuitive as possible. This in order to allow the player to write more spontaneously without having to think about controlling the movement and thus learning implicitly. The player unlocks new pieces of the zoo gradually and can choose from multiple exercises at any given time. Interrelated exercises appear as a path in the zoo.
Objective data about handwriting development
The big challenge was to develop a game that collects objective player data and provides feedback based on that data. Within Juf-in-a-Box the player writes with a stylus, in size comparable to a normal pen, on a tablet and monitor in one. Due to the intuitive interface the game is easily understandable. The tablet is very accurate and pressure sensitive and therefore provides the system with a lot of significant data.
An important issue in the development of the game was the objective assessment of the players data. Up to now teachers and physiotherapists more or less evaluated the results of the students using their experience. Juf-in-a-Box attempts to use objective data.
The game is adaptive. The player is taken by the hand by a pixie. She shows the player every exercise and provides feedback on the input of the player. The pixie helps the player when necessary, provides encouragement to keep practicing and introduces new exercises when the player is ready. The players input is used as a starting point and therefore the assessment is relative and individualized.
All exercises in Juf-in-a-Box are created in close collaboration with experts in the field of physiotherapy. It uses the Neuromotor Task Training method which focuses on the writing tasks children need to learn how to write and looks at the parts of those tasks the child has yet to master. The skills will be dissected into many intermediate steps and it is considered whether it makes sense to exercise those parts separately.
The emphasis is on the preparatory writing: the practice of writing movements. The movements relating to preparatory writing can be divided into neuromotor prerequisites, basic strokes and stroke sequences. The exercises for neuromotor prerequisites practice movement. Basic strokes practices the basic building blocks for writing letters and the stroke sequences practice connecting basic letter shapes. Basic strokes and stroke sequences first focus on consistency and later on accuracy. Every exercise will be repeated on a smaller scale, increasing the difficulty.