Forestry Commission England’s magical new app Gruffalo Spotter will bring Julia Donaldson’s beloved monster and friends to life. Mother & Baby goes behind the scenes to find out more, as part of our series of Best Toddler Days Out...
If you’ve got toddlers, chances are you already know about the Gruffalo Trails – a series of themed walks that lead children on an adventure ‘meeting’ characters from this popular book and taking part in activities. Mostly with sticks. And mud, plenty of mud.
But if you go down to the woods today, you might be surprised at the latest offering, a new free augmented reality app that literally magics up Gruffalo characters right in front of your eyes. Think Pokemon Go but cuter.
Families will follow clues on an interactive trail and track signs of their favourite character.
And if you’re worried about little legs keeping up, you needn’t be – there’s just 5 different Augmented Reality markers – footprint signposts, specific to each one of the characters. Spot little footprints for Mouse, a slithery trail for Snake, fox tracks for Fox, bird footprints for Owl and the unmistakable great big Gruffalo footprint. When the visitor aims their device at the footprint marker, a short animation of that character is triggered, blending in with its natural surroundings and this is where the magic really begins.
They can use the app to bring the 3D character animation to life and take photos alongside them. Their photos are automatically added to the device’s gallery, from where it can be shared via social media with the hashtag #GruffaloSpotters.
All about Gruffalo Spotter - from Creative Producer, Claire Spencer Cook
In the first development of its kind, Magic Light Pictures and Forestry Commission England worked with Nexus Studios and was led by Creative Producer Claire Spencer Cook who is a mum to two girls age 4 and 6 – the perfect ages to test the app. Mother & Baby went to meet Claire to find out more and most importantly, have a play on the app.
Do you think being a mum yourself helped with developing the app?
Definitely. My girls were very helpful in helping mummy test the app and through this we could work out how to scale the characters for children and make sure the photos are staged to fit them in too, designing it for little fingers. This helped us to find out about their attention spans and making sure the app is super simple to use with almost no text. If you give a 3-year-old something fun to go and discover for themselves, they are suddenly able to walk and run two miles on a forest trail with no carrying or buggy – that was a happy revelation!
Did you get out to test it?
We started out testing it in-house at our studio, then I ran two kid’s workshops with my local preschool and also on a forest site test day with some local mum friends and their children. We ran the testing day on a very cold morning at the end of January but thankfully the sun shone and we had a great day, both kids and grown-ups really enjoyed it. You can see them in our trailer film!
How has the app been received?
Very well – word of mouth meant we have received over 1 million plays of the app trailer on Facebook alone. The app also reached the top of the kids iPad chart and was selected to be promoted by Apple so we are enjoying huge uptake. If you check #Gruffalospotters on social media, you can see how much people are enjoying the forest trails with their kids but also with their grown-up friends and even their dogs!
Do you think there is scope for more of these kind of apps in the future?
Absolutely – from museums and historical sites to parks to school playgrounds, the opportunity to discover new characters in your local environment is still a new and exciting one to explore a lot further.
Tried and tested - a real Mum's review
We asked three mums for their feedback after using the Gruffalo Spotter app at their nearest Forestry Commission site.
Anna Wright with daughter Martha (6)
I downloaded the app to use on my iPhone and we headed out to Hick Lodge which is the nearest location to us. Martha loved how the characters she knows and loves just appeared in front of her eyes and couldn’t wait to have her picture taken with them. I think it would be great if there were move of these type of apps as they are not just fun for kids – but adults too. Since then, I’ve been recommending it to a lot of my friends and we are planning a big day out soon.
Laura Starkey with son Leo (4) and grandma Maureen
I guess what I'd say about the app is simply that to a child it looks like magic at work: animals appear from nowhere and move as if they're real. And for a grandparent who is a complete technophobe the effect is similar. Going with a grandparent who's not very 'app-y' means double the fun. We used an iPad mini so everything was displayed nice and big I can definitely see how this Gruffalo app could convince a less than enthusiastic kid to get out for a walk and that's a great thing - kids should be outside more. Imagine something like this at a science museum space exhibit or something with rockets taking off!
Lyndsey Harrison with son Niall (5)
The app worked great on the iPhone but wouldn't work correctly when downloaded to my Amazon Fire. Also, the speed at which the animations appeared after you'd already looked at that particular footprint could do with being a bit quicker as kids lose patience.
However, having said all this my son is desperate to go back and do it again. I'm however insisting that it's a full family event with his dad included as he made me run around the route with his little brother in the backpack as he was so keen to find the next animal on the trail!
It was my first time using an app like this and it was pretty easy to navigate. I'd definitely like to see more apps like these – anything to keep the children occupied and happy outdoors has got to be a good thing.
3 more great interactive apps to keep little ones happy this holiday
Bugs and Buttons by Little Big Studio, £2.99 - Helping children learn numbers can be a lot of fun as this app with its cute critters proves. An educational game that will keep children entranced. Suitable for: ages 3+
Toca Band by Toca Boca AB, £2.99 - If you’re happy to encourage some noisy play or want to want to nurture some musical talents, this app will bring out the rockstar in your child. Suitable for: ages 3+
LEGO Juniors Create and Cruise by LEGO Systems, free - Building LEGO is great fun but if you’re out and about without the bricks, this is a great alternative. Children can enjoy creating figures and vehicles. Suitable for: ages 5 and under
Get out there now!
The Gruffalo Spotters trail and The Gruffalo Spotter app will run until the end of September 2017. The app is free from the App Store, Google Play and Amazon and requires downloading before your visit.
A Gruffalo Spotters kit will be available to buy on site and includes animal facts and tips for tracking wildlife, an evidence collection bag, a magnifying glass and a pencil to make a note of your forest finds.