Tablets and smartphones have become popular devices among the preschool set. Even the U.K.’s Prince George reportedly prefers tapping on mum and dad’s Apple iPad to playing with his other toys.
The heir to the British monarchy is no different from other babies and toddlers, who are mesmerized by the tablet and its variety of applications. For parents looking for a way to entertain their babies and toddlers with positive, stimulating content on their iPads or iPhones, a Hollywood veteran and his wife have developed a new app called Baby’s Brilliant, which combines short movies with classical music to entertain and educate little ones in a non-toxic way. The Baby’s Brilliant app is free, and comes with three free downloads. Additional downloads are available at a small cost.
The brainchild of Benedict Coulter, the co-founder of Trailer Park, one of the biggest makers of movie trailers, Baby’s Brilliant’s app is designed especially for young children.
Coulter told Not Impossible Now he conceived the idea when he was driving home with his family, and literally had to pull over because of the noise coming from his son’s portable DVD player. He figured there had to be more appropriate material his boy could watch and that he and his wife could control the content by creating a suitable app.
Of course, most parents have heard about the studies that show classical music fosters brain development in young minds, so Coulter figured if he could put together classical music with images of daily life (and some animation), both kids and their parents would benefit. After some trial and error, he and his wife unveiled their Baby’s Brilliant app in August. The feedback, Coulter said, has been positive. He has already created some 70 little movies (approximately 5 minutes each) and the playlist continues to grow. Other features include a “Nightlight” function that shows soothing light show set to gentle music. Available now only on Apple devices, Coulter says it will soon be available on Android.
NIN: You and your wife Ulli came up with this because you couldn’t find the type of entertainment you wanted for your children, right?
Benedict Coulter: Yeah. We found as we were looking at materials coming out, it’s all computer-generated. You look most of the stuff online and it’s computer-generated cartoons with computer-generated music and computer-generated sound effects. It’s mind numbing instead of exciting and engaging. There seems to be an interest from people in going back to simpler things: wooden toys and things like that. So we thought, why not do something that addresses that? We decided to put our own materials together and find beautiful sceneries and images and cut it to classical music and really create something different.
As the CEO of Trailer Park, you’ve made movie trailers designed to capture audiences’ attention and get them to see movies. This is kind of the 180-degrees from that, right?
Coulter: Yes, it is the complete opposite. With motion picture marketing, we try to pack the biggest punch in the shortest amount of time and hit you right in the gut. This is completely another thing. We just want to slow down and let the children enjoy everything that’s beautiful and quiet and peaceful about life.
What can you tell me about the design of the app?
Coulter: Originally, we wanted to develop product through our website. Then, as we were looking further, we realized there was another option. The original company that did this 25 years ago was Baby Einstein. They make DVDs. The technology was changing so rapidly that my wife and I noticed that there were more and more kids on phones and tablets. So I became an Apple developer. I registered with Apple, and became a developer. I worked with someone who helped me format the app.
We realized it would be a much easier way for parents to access our materials, by downloading it through an app. Part of that process was really challenging. It took quite a long time to figure out the best way to do it. The original piece I cut was 20 minutes long and we realized it would take too long to download. So we decided to make shorter pieces and ended up making 5-minute formats, which are instantly downloadable. They seem to be the right size and right length. Sadly enough, that seems to be the attention span of a baby on any subject, and then they’re ready to look at something else.
What have you developed so far?
Coulter: We’ve developed quite a bit of stuff now so in the app there’s a playlist, where the parent can choose what their baby can watch. For example, they can put five movies in a row, and that’s 25 minutes worth of materials that will play back-to-back. The important thing is that they’re on an app; they’re not on YouTube, which is just a click away from potentially inappropriate material.
Did you make the movies yourself or outsource them?
Coulter: We created everything. I hired a composer to record classical music, children’s songs, religious songs, lullabies and some songs in Spanish. With the 17 children’s songs I had, I thought it would be great to animate them. So I worked with this animator in Canada. I love his style. It’s kind of innocent and funny. So there’s an option of watching the animated songs. It’s very child-like and innocent and sweet.
There’s another section in movies that are visuals of everyday life, such as animals, nature settings, planes and cars. Another part of the movies section is dedicated to letters, shapes and numbers.
We have one other section in the app that people seem to really respond to called “Nightlight.” When our kids were small, they always wanted a light on, and we’d have the TV on in the background, so we figured, “Why not just combine it?” It’s great when people are traveling, they can put the iPad or iPhone in the corner of the room and using the playlist, they can put 10 different pieces of music on with the same visual or different visuals. We’ve gotten a lot great feedback from people that like our visuals. We’re just trying to create quality.
Are there plans to expand Baby’s Brilliant?
Coulter: We’re now in the process of developing kids’ stories for the app, where the story is read by a mom and there are images they can watch. We are offering for free to people deployed in the military, a storytelling option where they can prerecord the story for their youngsters. We send them the script and they record it on their phone and send it to us and we’ll record it on a dedicated website, so the kids can see the book read by mom and dad, who are stationed far away. That’s our way to say thank you. I’m about to shoot some movies in sign language. I haven’t seen much children’s material in sign language. Other movies will be directed at little ones with autism that will engage, stimulate or please them.
The movies you have now are in English, Spanish and Chinese.
Coulter: Yeah, and we have a couple in French and German. We just uploaded a new one with animals, where you have the names of each animal in English and five other languages.
How many downloads have you had?
Coulter: The app launched at the end of August. We’ve got 20 positive reviews. So far, we’re up to 1,100 downloads. With the response we’re getting from parents, we feel like we’re part of a movement to get away from the toxic entertainment that kids are absorbing. We even heard from a neuroscientist from Rutgers University, who saw our material and noted that it’s crucial in baby brain development there’s a certain rhythm to the materials they see, and she saw that in our little movies.
There’s also an initiative in California called “First Five” that stresses the importance of speaking to kids, reading to them before they are five to improve brain development. Our stuff is beautiful images, cut to classical music, read by kids with a pleasant voice. There’s an educational value to it. One movie we uploaded this week shows the statues of Easter Island, and we’ve added an animated rabbit to it. So there’s a little bit of everything.
The most important thing in the app is the playlist because it allows the parent to be the director. They can choose from all the clips and create the playlist and shuffle them, too. Parental control is an important thing for us.
How many movies are on your playlist?
Coulter: About 75. There are over 200 pieces of music, and there are probably 200 combinations of “Nightlights.”
Have you tested the product on your own kids?
Coulter: My daughter and my youngest sons do the voiceovers. And my oldest son, who is 14, is a tech whiz. He’s the one who found me the animator for the songs. Every piece we do we make a presentation to the whole family. If they see something in the video they don’t like or understand, we change it.
Are there are other uses for these apps?
Coulter: We gave away some iPads loaded with our materials to L.A. Children’s Hospital recently. They told us it’s great for kids in intensive care. They’re in these rooms with tubes and machines and they don’t have a view of the outside world. Our little movies are taking them everywhere. They can see views of the Eiffel Tower and things like that. So hospitals are something we’re looking at more and more.
Learn more about the Baby’s Brilliant app at their site and by watching the video below.
Top photo courtesy of Baby’s Brilliant