Microsoft revealed a major initiative to encourage children and families to learn by engaging with interactive television and games in an entirely new way, enabled by Xbox 360 and its motion-sensing camera peripheral Kinect and voice recognition technology. It also unveiled an initial slate of projects and announced the partners in these “playful learning” experiences are Disney/Pixar, National Geographic, Sesame Workshop’s Sesame Street and Double Fine.

As part of its strategic partnership with Sesame Street, Xbox 360 is filming a season of interactive shows called Kinect Sesame Street TV which feature versions of shows from the current television season, new content written and filmed specifically for Kinect, and access to classic clips from the Sesame Street archive.

“This partnership is an opportunity to combine the interactive platform of Kinect with Sesame Workshop’s 42 years of innovative and research-based approaches to educational content,” said Rosemarie Truglio, PhD, vice president Education and Research, Sesame Workshop (pictured). “This new media experience allows for meaningful learning — leveraging kids’ gross motor abilities by creating exciting, gesture-based movements that allow them to connect with our characters and content.”

Xbox 360 is also working with the Sesame Workshop Curriculum Team on Project Columbia (the working title), another experience designed to foster a love for books and reading. It allows children to interact with words and illustrations to immerse themselves in the story, using the power of play to emphasize comprehension.

Kinect Nat Geo TV uses similar principles and tools to engage children with National Geographic animals and the natural sciences. “Nat Geo WILD is an ideal partner for Kinect, turning passive television viewing into a creative, immersive experience where kids and families can actually interact with our unique content,” said Brad Dancer, senior vice president of Digital Media and Research, National Geographic Channels. “By partnering the stories, images and information from Nat Geo WILD with the Kinect platform, we are pushing the boundaries of traditional television and gaming to help inspire and train the next generation of explorers.”

Another project, code named Rush, is exclusive to Kinect and is more games-oriented than the ITV initiatives. It will enable children to use Kinect to put their image onto the screen to interact with the characters and worlds of five Pixar films: Toy Story 3, Up, Cars 2, Ratatouille and The Incredibles. Rush is scheduled for release in spring 2012.

The final announced project launching this new Xbox 360 initiative is Double Fine Happy Action Theater, created for Xbox Live by developer Tim Shafer and Double Fine Productions Inc. The company described it as an interactive virtual playground rather than a game, since there are no rules, no menus and no instructions. Experiences in Happy Action Theater include diving into an undersea adventure and becoming a giant monster that can stomp buildings to the ground, activities that are likely to be popular in dorm rooms as well as family rooms.

Related links:

Microsoft blog post –

Photo of Sesame Workshop’s Rosemarie Truglio, Ph.D.
discussing the company’s Kinect projects, courtesy of Microsoft.