S4C app lets children phone a friend

Children with special communication needs can now ‘phone a friend thanks to a pioneering TV producer from Wrexham and S4C.

Makers of one of S4C’s most popular children’s TV series Dwylo’r Enfys (Rainbow Hands) have taken the knowing little teddy, Ffion Ffȏn, into the smartphone revolution and created her very own apps – the first of seven Ffion Ffȏn apps has just been released.

Dwylo’r Enfys visits children with special needs across Wales when Heulwen, a lively and colourful character, leaves her home at the End of the Rainbow to meet the children and take them on adventures.

“Chwarae Chwilio” – their search for three objects during the programme is directed by Ffion Ffȏn.

The first series of Dwylo’r Enfys, produced by Ceidiog TV, was a huge success and the most popular on S4C’s Cyw programmes, and the second series starts on Monday and will coincide with the launch of the app.

The suite of apps has been produced with investment from S4C’s Digital Fund and can be downloaded from the App Store.

Ceidiog was established in 1996 by award-winning broadcaster, producer and director Nia Ceidiog, who hails from Coedpoeth, near Wrexham, and is now based in Cardiff. She is a former pupil of Ysgol Morgan Llwyd and the daughter of the late Gwilym Ceidiog Hughes and his wife, Edna.

Nia, who also wrote the original versions of Fireman Sam in English and Welsh, has been shortlisted as a finalist at the BAFTA Cymru awards for her work on Dwylo’r Enfys.

She said: “I suppose Ffion Ffȏn now has her own production, she’s gone for her own apps. We are starting with a launch of four apps and the most important will be on Monday with the launch of Ffion’s very own app.

“There will be a gradual release of another three apps which will be available from the apps store but Ffion’s very own app is very exciting.

“Ffion is an orange little teddy and in the series she calls Heulwen and the children on the smartphone  three times in the show to tell them what they are going to do next.

“The app is a new departure for Ffion. Children and adults will be able to call and play along with Ffion, it’s great fun.

“What the app does is encourage people to talk to her because she repeats everything in her funny voice. On a more serious note there is an educational purpose because it encourages children, who may have difficulty communicating to vocalise or speak because she speaks back to you and makes you laugh.

“These are two things which are quite powerful tools for learning for children with special needs and were developed after discussion with practitioners in the field from Caernarfon, Caerphilly and Swansea about games which would appeal,” said Nia.

She has developed the apps in conjunction with Rantmedia of Cardiff. Director Anton Faulconbridge explained: “The app listens for a sound and what it hears it records and when the sound level drops it plays it back at a slightly higher pitch.

“So when a child says ‘Hello’, Ffion moves her mouth and she will say ‘Hello’ back. It encourages children to speak basically. It’s quite amusing, you find kids cracking up and saying stupid things.

“As well as  repeating things, the animated character can be activated by action buttons which will make Ffion do various things. She waves and says ‘hello’ while another button makes her do a funky walk. With another, a woollen ball comes bouncing on screen and Ffion kicks it and it cracks the screen.

“Also on the top of the screen is a Rainbow xylophone which you can play. We have three other apps which have been commissioned by S4C which are in development.”

Rantmedia has been operating for 10 years and moved from creation of websites to apps and mobile games production with a team of nine based in Cathedral Road, in Cardiff.

Nia said: “The second series of Dwylo’r Enfys starts on Monday (Sept 2) and that will be the beginning of another run where 13 children with special needs will go on adventures as Heulwen crosses the Rainbow and comes to Wales. The difference now of course is that her boss, Ffion, now has her own app!

“Heulwen will be taking them on all sorts of adventures for example – on Monday, Jayden from Bangor goes on a visit to the Air Ambulance at Dinas Dinlle, and other adventures take in the Colwyn Bay Mountain Zoo and the Heatherton Country Park in Pembrokeshire.”

After the launch of the flagship app, the three others involve a visit to a fire station, one at the doctors and one about crossing the road.

The 69p Ffion app is truly international since whatever you say to Ffion, in whatever language she will repeat back to you.

“Whatever you say she will mimic in her own voice. The important thing is to make it accessible,” said Nia.

“We will see how these progress and then hopefully we will produce another three apps so that we have seven in all, one for each colour of the rainbow.

“These days children of all ages are using smartphones and ipads and they very soon learn how to download apps. We need to be on these new platforms.

“Children are engaging with technology intuitively and we just want to be part of that and provide something suitable for all children – whatever their needs –  which has value and can be measured educationally and that value is to encourage communication.”

S4C’s Digital Manager Huw Marshall said: “The response to Dwylo’r Enfys since its launch on S4C last year has been incredible.

“Many parents and teachers have contacted us to say how much their children and pupils enjoy the programme, and how the programme has raised awareness of Makaton and children with special needs.

“This interactive app will appeal to children of all abilities and helps to develop speech generally, but we also  knew that there was a distinct lack of apps for children with special needs using Welsh, and so creating a suite of Apps starring Ffion Ffon was a great opportunity to address this

“This app demonstrates our commitment to further developing our content to a very important part of our audience across a broad range of platforms.”

 Dwylo’r Enfys is on S4C at 8.25am every morning and you can watch previous episodes on s4c.co.uk/clic.

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