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Microsoft today unveiled a new initiative, dubbed playful learning, that will use the Xbox 360 Kinect sensor to increase the ways kids interact with some of their favorite educational television programs.

Those programs include Sesame Street and National Geographic. The goal is to get kids off the couch, interacting with the shows in new ways. For example, if Cookie Monster says during an episode of Sesame Street, “Stand up and clap your hands with me,” the system will recognize whether the child is playing along and Cookie Monster will interact accordingly, according to the company.

“Now kids will be able to have adventures with their Sesame Street friends and be a part of the adventure in a way that’s never been possible before,” said Miles Ludwig, managing director of content innovation at Sesame Workshop. “We’re very excited about this partnership with Microsoft that will capitalize on new technologies to bring altogether new kinds of educational and of course entertaining experiences to families.”

Microsoft’s Frank Shaw writes in a blog post:

What does this look like? Well, I remember a few years back, sitting with my daughter as she watched Sesame Street. Lots of times, when Elmo or Ernie or some other character would ask a question, my daughter would answer it. She talked to the characters and interacted with them, but they never answered or acknowledged her… Now, thanks to Kinect and Xbox 360, kids will be able to interact with the characters, and actually see themselves onscreen as part of the action. The possibilities are pretty mindboggling.

Microsoft also will be working with Sesame Workshop on a new effort codenamed “Project Columbia,” designed to bring storybooks to life by allowing readers to interacting with words and illustrations.

Interestingly, the Microsoft news comes just as the American Academy of Pediatrics warned parents about the overuse of electronic media for those kids under the age of two.

Here’s a video overview of the new offering from Microsoft.


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