Microsoft aims at kids with Kinect learning push

Microsoft has announced plans to revitalise its Kinect controllerless-controller system for the Xbox 360 by appealing to parents eager to get their kids learning.

In a move reminiscent of the cries of kids from the early days of home computing - who desperately needed a ZX Spectrum to help with schoolwork, and not at all to play Manic Miner or Jet Set Willy - Microsoft has announced a series of 'playful learning' experiences powered by the Kinect depth-sensing accessory for the Xbox 360.

"We know that the most effective learning environments for children are those that are engaging and exciting, and that foster collaboration and a positive attitude toward learning,” claims Microsoft's wonderfully-named Alex Games. “With the controller-free magic of Kinect, we can encourage kids to use their motor skills and to learn using their body in immersive experiences. This new way to play allows children to learn by interacting with their favorite characters and engage with content in novel ways."

The project sees Microsoft team up with Sesame Workshop - creator of Sesame Street - and National Geographic to create a series of educational TV shows designed to be interactive via the Kinect accessory.

Microsoft's 'playful learning' experiences will be split into three: Kinect Sesame Street TV and Kinect Nat Geo TV are, as the names suggest, interactive versions of the usual TV programmes; a third phase under the name 'Project Columbia' aims to encourage children to read books.

"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," claims National Geographic's Brad Dancer of the project. "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."

Microsoft isn't the only company hoping to get parents shelling out on the latest gadgets for their precious darlings: smartphone giant HTC is so keen on attracting children to its brand that it announced a $13 million deal to acquire kid-friendly UI specialist Inquisitive Minds yesterday.

Expect many more tech companies to make announcements regarding child-friendly products in the near future.