App taps kids’ interest in technology to open door to gardening and the out of doors

Date posted: June 27, 2012

Roo's Fabulous Edible Garden"Roo's Fabulous Edible Garden" encourages kids to learn more about what it takes to grow a garden.

A new electronic game from UNC-TV and North Carolina Cooperative Extension is designed to get kids interested in spending time outdoors growing their own fruits and vegetables.

Made for the iPhone and iPad, “Read-a-Roo’s Fabulous Edible Garden” allows kids to grow their own virtual gardens and, along the way, learn how to grow, harvest and cook a variety of real plants and vegetables.

The game, geared for kids in grades 1 to 3, is available for free download at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id516395967. It’s the first-ever mobile gaming application for kids released by UNC-TV, North Carolina’s statewide public television network.

Using the app, kids start creating their virtual gardens by raking out the soil to prepare for planting, then they plant seeds, water and weed their gardens and remove harmful bugs. Later, game players can harvest their virtual crops and find easy recipes to make tasty snacks out of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Through video segments, Miss Joy – UNC-TV employee Joy Potts – ties the interactive games to the real world, giving kids gardening tips based on information from North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

Lead content advisor Dr. Lucy Bradley, a Cooperative Extension horticultural science specialist at N.C. State University, said the goal was to “go where children are and then get them interested in being outside.”

The videos, Bradley said, help tie the world of imaginary play to what it takes to garden successfully. The interactive games are simple but educational. For example, through a bug game, kids learn that not all insects they find in the garden are pests, Bradley said. If they remove lady bird beetles, which prey on other insects, the number of bugs in their virtual garden multiplies.

“It shows,” Bradley said, “that some bugs are your allies, helping you manage pests and if you kill those natural predators your pest problem will become worse.”

The game also promotes an understanding of the life cycle of a plant – from seed to produce – and encourages healthy eating. “There’s lots of evidence that children who grow food are much more likely to eat it, so if we get kids interested in gardening and growing their own food, we create an important connection to nutrition,” Bradley said.

Along with Bradley, Cooperative Extension educators at N.C. State who contributed gardening expertise were Liz Driscoll, Extension associate in the departments of Horticultural Science, Crop Science, Soil Science and Entomology; and Karen Neill, horticulture agent in Guilford County.

Recipes came from Cooperative Extension’s Produce Lady, Brenda Sutton of Rockingham County; and Leah Chester-Davis, a communication specialist at the Plants for Human Health Institute in Kannapolis.

Those involved with developing the game from UNC-TV were Jamie McGurk, promotions manager; Cathy Dobbins, director of federal and foundation grants; Joy Potts, annual giving coordinator; Len Faulconer, on-air promotions director; Kamona Herring, Just For Kids outreach coordinator; and Pam Orr, UNC-TV PreK-12 and Ready to Learn director.

Lawrence Ingraham of Tantrum Apps in Chapel Hill helped UNC-TV and Cooperative Extension develop the app.

The game was developed thanks to a grant from PBS, which takes seriously the challenge to develop games that help children gain needed literacy and math skills. A whole suite of free games featuring well-known PBS children’s characters is available at http://pbskids.org/lab

North Carolina Cooperative Extension is an educational partnership of North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, county governments and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

-Dee Shore, 919-513-3117 or dee_shore@ncsu.edu

Media contacts: Dr. Lucy Bradley, assistant professor of horticultural science at N.C. State University, 919-513-2001 or lucy_bradley@ncsu.edu; or James McGurk, promotions manager at UNC-TV, 919-549-7061 or jmcgurk@unctv.org

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