Disney has launched the first of its new Imagicademy series of educational apps, accompanied by a separate app for parents that aims to help them track their children’s learning.

Mickey’s Magical Maths World has launched first for Apple’s iPad tablet, with Android devices to follow in 2015 in the series, which is aimed at 3-8 year-old children.

Future apps in the Imagicademy series will focus on art and creative play, science, reading and social skills, based on brands including Frozen and Doc McStuffins.

“The focus is on creativity and imagination through kids doing and making,” Jeff Sellinger, senior vice president of Disney Learning, told the Guardian. “This is uniquely Disney, with the stories and characters that kids already love, combined with learning objectives that were developed with experts.”

The first Imagicademy app is free to download, and includes five sections focusing on early maths skills including counting, sorting and simple addition and subtraction.

“It’s truly a family experience. The creativity of children in the apps gets shared back to parents in the parent application, so they can not only see what their child is making, but the learning objectives they’ve been experiencing,” said Sellinger.

“We’re trying to create a conversation between parent and child: it’s like the difference between getting a letter home from school that says what your child is making and doing, versus seeing their portfolio.”


How does Mickey’s Magical Maths World shape up? It’s clear that a lot of craft has gone into the first app in the series: not just into the five maths mini-games, but into the menus that provide access to them.

Well, less menus, and more interactive environments: children swipe between the five worlds, and can happily amuse themselves tapping on characters and objects to see what happens. Meanwhile, items that they have created within the individual sections – rockets and robots – appear here too.

Children collect digital badges for their achievements within the app, and are encouraged to look for easter eggs: jumping in a muddly puddle on one world gets their robot progressively dirtier, for example.

Sellinger showed a preview of the next app, Mickey’s Magical World of Arts, which is due to be released in January. Its sections include music-making, building designing and a feature where children can not only draw and colour in their own 2D character, but also digitally insert it into a range of scenes from Disney films.

That will be followed by Frozen World of Science in April, although Disney’s plans for Imagicademy also go beyond apps. There will also be books and toys, including “smart toy” plush toys due to go on sale in the US in summer 2015.

“It’s got an operating system inside it,” said Sellinger, showing a demonstration video of a Mickey Mouse using voice recognition technology to listen to a child reading a book, and provide interjections at the appropriate moments. When they read out a line about a rocket, for example, the toy says “Wow! A rocket? Where’s it going?”


Many of Imagicademy’s features have been tried before. The robot-making and character creation sections of the first two apps brought children’s publisher Toca Boca’s Toca Robot Labs and Toca Hair Salon apps to mind, for example, while Outfit7 (of Talking Tom Cat fame) has been experimenting with voice recognition and connected toys.

Nobody yet has blended education, entertainment and technology as ambitiously as Imagicademy though, while Disney should have the marketing clout to get its apps onto parents’ devices where smaller publishers often struggle to cut through app store clutter.

Then again, Disney will hope that the free-to-try nature of the Imagicademy apps will give it a shot at convincing parents to stump up more. That could even benefit other publishers, if it convinces more parents that in-app purchases can be used ethically in children’s apps.

Imagicademy is also part of a wider trend of big children’s/family brands doubling down on education in their digital products.

Expect to see brands like Disney, Lego and Sesame Street continuing to experiment and innovate in 2015, along with app-born brands like Angry Birds, and a bubbling pot of startups that has spawned the likes of Toca Boca, Kidaptive, Night Zookeeper, Hopster, Originator, Tynker and more.

“Apps are a great way for kids to learn through doing and making,” said Sellinger. That seems like the right blend, combined with creativity and imagination.”


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Author: Stuart Dredge