Nim’s Island: Shaping Youth Through Imagination & Adventure

nim.jpg“Be the hero of your own story.” Ooh, I’m likin’ this one already…and Nim’s Island doesn’t even open in theatres until Friday. Heads up, eco-educators!

This “place where imagination runs wild and adventure rules,” has a standards-based curriculum being rolled out for tomorrow’s half-hour commercial-free Reel Thinking Event on Animal Planet (April 2, 10am PST/EST, or online April 3-30 here).

They’re wisely using the film as a springboard to highlight how children can take care of where they live – their “island” – by taking an active role in protecting the environment, from marine life to bio-diversity and habitat.

Based on author Wendy Orr’s book by the same name, (more here at Wendy’s blog) the film about a smart, feisty young girl has already opened in Australia at Sea World (red carpet guests included a sea lion!) and sneak peeks are this week, with free tickets here for friends of Kids Off the Couch. (we’ll be featuring this site on Shaping Youth soon)

As I mentioned in this nature ‘unplugged’ post, mainstream blockbusters like Ice Age, Hoot, and Over the Hedge probably did more for influencing kids’ environmental understanding than when we wrote about Inconvenient Truth and 11th Hour in some ways…so I strongly feel we need to applaud content development that’s meaningful and meaty on an entertainment level as well as an academic one.

nims_onesheet.jpgAlready, the line up looks sublime, with Jodie Foster (huge hero of mine, Common Sense Media interviews her here) Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin (mega-talented tween) and Gerard Butler as the scientist father AND the imaginary adventurer Alex Rover in a family tale of a young girl and her dad in tropical environs chock full of animal friends with a reclusive S.F. literary hero earmarked to save the day…

Gosh, I could almost rename it “Aim’s Island”…as I was raised in the tropics (Hawaii) am a writer/author in San Francisco environs (not exactly a recluse, but I DO live on an island (yep, seriously) adore animals, and am clearly a scrappy lass (albeit an older one, though my tween offspring could certainly carry the baton forth on the youth front like a classic ‘stunt double’ of yesteryear!)

Logline? “A girl. An iguana. An island. And e-mail.”

An ad pitchmeister might embellish, “think Indiana Jones and Jewel of the Nile meets Doctor Doolittle on Gilligan’s Island with a savvy tween using a digital life-raft.”

Um…Or not.

Wonder what author Wendy Orr thinks about the adaptation of her original book to film…She’s already coming out with a sequel called Nim’s At Sea, and judging by the way some of these homeschooling families have taken to the book, I’ll bet she’s got some backorders in Australia already.

Shaping Youth is always trying to change the channel of influence to a healthier worldview for kids…

nimframe.jpg…And this film seems to fit the bill, from the plethora of clips and reading; so I’m going to go out on a limb and say ‘support it’ this weekend sight unseen, as that’s when industry moguls clock and chart box office content in ‘hit or miss’ style.

As I learned from Sisterhood of the Travelin’ Pants Executive Producer Kira Davis at the Mind on the Media event a few years back, it really DOES matter WHEN you see the movie. (she sat at our table and explained that if you REALLY want to make a difference the opening weekend is key, which I always thought was probably balderdash; evidently, not so!)

If we want to shift content to embrace imaginative, positive, fare, then much like the use of the digital web, we need to launch targeted campaigns via our own purchasing power and tell all family and friends to support a given film.

We do this regularly with indie documentaries, viral clips and ‘reality-based’ shows like Girls Rock, Two Angry Moms, Adina’s Deck for anti-cyberbullying and such, but haven’t used that social media power yet to embrace more commercialized films. (probably should if we want more innovation and less sass-n-trash, eh?)

On the media analysis side, Jeff Corwin’s Animal Planet eco-special is being filmed in my old stompin’ grounds at Sea Life Park in Hawaii with a digital call to action challenging students to submit their own ideas on preserving the environment.

The Reel Thinking eco-challenge ends April 11th, (winners announced on Earth Day) and it obviously raised an eyebrow to me since it’s ‘commercial-free’ yet promoted via ‘cable in the classroom’ environs which smacks of stealth movie backdoor promotion as a fast, smart way to reach 90,000+ eager eyeballs; which is a commercial in itself.

nim-poster.jpgThat said…this lumps into my “peaceful coexistence” category of media and marketing embedding positive cues of compassion, eco-consciousness, resilience and self-confidence for children under the guise of entertainment if handled well.

We do this in our Shaping Youth edu-games constantly. (from ‘natural resource’ Twister, to see how everything is interconnected and can collapse with too much entanglement, to essays and contest for ‘planet patrol’ clubs)

Some may take issue with this ‘stealth learning’ media mashup with standards-based curriculum approach, but we’re repeatedly using the ‘innovate to educate’ counter-marketing games, with retention outcomes far superior to standard fare.

Face it, kids learn more when they’re having fun and fully engaged. Here are the details of the school eco-cash/contest…

Much like the user-generated student contests at Quantum Shift TV, (great new one here they just announced using machinima in virtual worlds called “Quest 2 Change RL” or Treehugger’s Project Earth Day student competition, or the Think Green Challenge from Juntoventure & such, Nim’s Island is using a ‘commercial free’ movie-tie in to cross-promote a commercial film.

What do you think? ‘Backdoor’ movie promotion or viable eco-unit teaching? How does it differ, or does it at all?

The Nim’s Island site has games like Seaside Shuffle, Animal Jukebox, trailers and backstory, but being that this is ‘the Age of Conversation’ I found the Walden Media forums and particularly the Nim’s Island MySpace portal even livelier, to hear what other kids have to say, how they’re using the avatars, what they’re excited about, etc.

I’m hoping that soon I’ll get to tap into what they think of the Animal Planet segment tomorrow, (would love to hear from teachers and eco-educators out there too) as I’ll be on a plane en route to the CCFC summit, so can’t view it myself until later. (no post tmrw!)

Meanwhile, go see it THIS WEEKEND to support ’em!

I wonder if our own Marine Mammal Center is hosting a tie-in donor screening event?

Hope so, I’m a sucker for a sea lion…and all creatures great and small.

‘Bless the beasts and the children.’ 😉



  1. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie! Reminds me of my backyard explorations as a kid– and wanting it to feel exotic and empowering. And kids who have bonds with animals? That is like top-o-the-list for cool kid super powers (not the showy kind, but the kind where you’re sitting in your room with your dog, thinking how the world doesn’t understand you, and relating this to your bff pup).

    Did you see the “GREEN” area of Buildabearville? What do you think would make a great example of supporting environmentally friendly causes in virtual spaces without taking over the site’s brand? I’m just curious– since everyone is trying something a little different. 🙂

    Hope all is well!

  2. Their ‘new world stuffed with fun’ is STILL ultimately about consumption which lands on me as inauthentic…The trailer seems to ‘borrow’ from the other VW genres to snag a sort of ‘Zwinky-Habbo-Webkinz-ish’ feel…

    I far prefer instilling ‘in-world fun to RL action’ as a model…akin to Dizzywood’s Garden Gazebo or ‘plant a tree’ (one of my Facebook groups) which might make sense for alignment of for-profit/nonprofit eco-sectors.

    Quantum Shift TV is doing great stuff in this realm…In fact they’ve just launched another cool contest in the older kids’ virtual space which I’ll be reporting on soon…a student machinima contest called, “Quest 2 Change RL” —thought that was a great example of energizing VW values/eco-concerns etc. much like TSL and Global Kids has accomplished

    I’m actually presenting some of my thoughts on this type of ‘mashup’ (as Anastasia would call it) to embed positive ‘rewards’ (BEYOND coinage and consumption in virtual worlds, as you recall we all discussed!) and social media positives that kids could carry forward into their own home life…(much like the readergirlz/MySpace model)

    I just flew in to Boston for the CCFC summit and will be presenting some of these ‘new media’ uses, as probably the token industry representative of ‘the dark side’ of media and marketing) heehe. Figure I might as well camp it up, so am using a Star Wars theme of how we need to shift thinking and wield the powerful sabers of media and marketing forces for GOOD!

    Along these lines, I sat next to a young woman on the plane (eco-type gal doing work in China/manufacturing soft goods) and she told me all about the advances being made overseas in the environmental realm (from fabrics and components to health consciousness, etc.) that it was almost ‘culture shock’ to come back to the US with all of the ‘buy buy baby’ cues of ‘bigger/better keeping up w/the Joneses’ ‘MTV sweet 16’ types of ‘showy’ senselessness…

    Many of her friends are getting married right now and she went on a mini-rant about consumptionism and Bridezilla wedding debts, and is actually having a ‘green’ wedding (herb plants as the centerpieces and favors for take-home replanting, etc.) and we brainstormed a lot about this very topic (integrating eco-friendly causes in virtual spaces and such.

    As for the tweenagers and VW eco-context, I need to delve further into Hulala, and talk more w/K. on Dizzywood’s storyline, as I see fabulous creative opps for ‘interventions’ with positive stuff to de-escalate some of the less healthy cues.

    I have a feeling I’m gonna get a double-whammy of heavy-duty research here at the summit from all the leaders and mucky-muck Ivy leaguers with reports out the wazoo that will make the APA damage/findings and Byron report common sense warnings pale by comparison…so your query comes at a good time…I might just lob the ball into the workshop dialogue and see what THEY think could make a difference in VW environs! (Sara’s here from Gamine Expedition, too!)

    More soon…btw, more on the Byron Report here: (Any further thoughts on it from your world?

  3. Consumerism is such an odd pickle. I totally get (and appreciate) anti-commercialism for youth. Unforch, there is still a blossoming market with people building awesome inter-activities for youth, and those awesome interactivities need to come home with income if they’re going to survive. VC appeasement, Bank roll, Scalibility, Product management, A thriving community of needs, improvement, etc– it ain’t cheap or stress free. And money is always needed to continue on. So it’s easy to say commercialism in virtual worlds is wrong, but without it, there wouldn’t be these opportunities for kids to explore and create and play with the stories and games they like best.

    Conservation additions & educational value within a virtual environment are great when it comes organic with the property’s play patterns. Sometimes it’s just contrived and slapped on.

    I’d like to find a way to between the two. Something that allows kids the tools to make change without subjecting any ulterior motives on the natural game play. A way for kids to elect positive change with subtle urging from the site, so kids walk away feeling they created their own empowerment, instead of educational tracks shifting the purposed game play the kids bought in on to begin with.

    I love Dizzywood, and I think they have a lot of opportunities to explore areas of social impact that others do not. It’s the brilliance of their goal– Adventure in society, a community of social impact, the story is yours to make, etc. ZooKazoo has similar motivations as their games even reflect endangered animals, energy conservation, etc.

    But places like Buildabearville? They had a tough road ahead. They have a consumerism brand– and let’s face it, kids love the bears. They do. I loved bears as a kid, and to have a store that would allow me to explore that bear-based play pattern? Maaaaan. And yet, to be able to extend the play to a virtual world? I would have been first on the site. Yes, they have to combat some of their commercialism with conservation, and that’s great. They’re clearly exploring avenues of educational value, and kudos to them. I am “iffy” about their recycle building (now on their map), and equally as “iffy” about their recycle quest. But in their fishing game– that’s the gem. When you fish, occasionally you can catch boots, or other types of garbage. When cashing in– the site gives you money for the fish you could, but then tells you they recycled all the crap you’ve found. That was more powerful to me in its subtlety (and I felt gratitude for myself, but still got my game on).

    So the question goes: how do you present educational/conservative information without having it interrupt the reason/purpose you visit the site? And is it REALLY successful? Or is it one of those things that kids will eventually just see right through?

    The secret to me so far = Tools in the hands of kids. Kids creating their own empowerment. That’s where the key is… I just got to figure it out while keeping our gamers happy and our site running.

    It’s a pickle, my friend. It’s a pickle. But I’ll crack it sooner or later. Love to hear your thoughts, since I’m a bit more in the corner than you are (lol).


  4. I’m totally with you Izzy on the questions that commercialism raises in virtual worlds.

    The makers need to pay the bills and make a profit – I’m all for that (I don’t write my books for free.) Some worlds like Dizzywood are in a better position to leverage the educational value of what they have to offer than Build-a-Bear, whose roots are firmly planted in a product.

    But from the sounds of their fishing game, they were able to embed some positive educational “value” into the game (the message that recycling old junk is a good a good thing.) Although it didn’t seem obvious, the Buildabearville makers were embedding a form of learning into that game: modelling. By simply saying: “We (buildabearville) have recycled the junk you found.”, they are modelling a positive behaviour, which players learn from. The same form of modelling occurs, but in a negative way, when vws install a mindless coin/consumption cycle. This cycle models a form of consumerism that we (adults) have come to see is not sustainable. In this way *all* vws are educational. It’s just a matter of what they are teaching that is the question.

    Education, fun and profit can all co-exist in virtual worlds. I’m seeing more evidence of this every time I your blog, or Amy’s or simply explore one of the many new vws out there.

  5. I think that’s why I dig that element in Buildabear. The embedded modeling. So far, through my ventures in vwing, the interwoven educational/social layers with the best success have been role modeled. Or maybe that’s just because not everyone has done it yet? Hmmm. Time will tell.

    That’s the thing… 5 months from now those darn kids are gonna figure us all out and demand different offerings. Or not. I love this job, always keeps us guessing.

  6. Ok, gang, I’m back from Boston…so here’s my feeling:

    1.) Embedded modeling is grand in that it’s very subtle and almost undetectable on the social learning front; we’ve tested some of this via our tween/teen advisors, and it works THROUGH its subtle behavioral positives, much like the role modeling Izzy mentions. However…

    2.) Buildabear’s overkill consumption message to dress a stuffed toy from head to toe with ipods and bling will NEVER fit with an eco-sustainability message for me, because it comes across as not genuine and doesn’t pass the sniff test for me on the greenwashing front…

    3.) If you add up the amount of acoutrements one freakin’ bear has by the time these consumer-frenzied kids walk out the door of that shop with needless purchases, you could send a whole case of ‘bare-naked bears’ (sans sparkly cellphones and hairbands) to kids overseas who really need them…(see my post here on Operation Teddy Care, etc.)

    The consumption model is built on wretched excess, so I have a humanist problem with it from the get go…

    That said, if you’re talking strictly VW, then I’d say yah, embedded cues are always a bonus…(are you guys sorry you asked now?) 😉 heehe

  7. Great blog. Can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

  8. Well, now THAT is a first. I get a lot of those complimentary ‘autobot’ style comments (similar to #9 above) and delete them as link spam pronto…but YOU “iguana feeding” friend, are a keeper, and not ‘voted off the island.’ (yes, I like iguanas and critters and even WENT to an iguana sanctuary in Roatan Honduras near our eco cabina…but that’s not why…)

    Policy drumroll please! Be advised, linkers…

    If you have a site that’s chock full of useful info, whether it’s iguana or igloos, I leave it…all those with requisite SEO splash screens and offensive/pharmaceutical nonsense go bye-bye. There’s the policy.

    Amy Jussel’s last blog post..Body Image Benefit: America the Beautiful Movie

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