Social Skills Program Helps Children Experience Real Life Situations Virtually

Social Skills Program Helps Children Experience Real Life Situations Virtually

Often, learning social skills is a natural thing — communicating feelings, talking about needs and wants, and understanding and showing empathy. But sometimes these things don’t always come so naturally for children, especially those on the autism spectrum or who have shown problems adjusting to social situations.

Chris Dudick and Bernadette Mullen are making huge strides in developing and using technology that can help children feel more comfortable expressing emotions, communicating feelings, and talking about things that are difficult for them.

Socially Interactive Learning Avatar Software (SiLAS)

Socially Interactive Learning Avatar Software (SiLAS) is a software developed by Chris, using the curriculum Bernadette wrote that allows kids with social learning challenges to understand social skills through a curriculum-based learning program. The curriculum Bernadette developed was driven by her years of experience working as a speech-language pathologist. SiLAS uses video game controllers and headset microphones to control 2D cartoon avatars that have the ability to express emotions.

Social Skills Progam: SiLas Solutions“Students can select their favorite characters in an effort to represent themselves on screen,” said Chris. “The avatars use facial expressions to show emotion.”

This allows students to experience different social situations they might encounter in real life and then choose an appropriate response. Students can practice new skills that may be difficult for them in reality in a virtual world where they feel more comfortable. The software records their skit and saves it as a movie file the student can watch and learn from again.

“If students are shy or have problems interacting in different social situations, this software can help them practice and rehearse so it’s a little less intimidating when faced with the real situation,” said Chris. “Students get to watch how they sound and how they act on screen.”

The Team Behind This Social Skills Program

The team of Bernadette, a speech pathologist, and Chris, a multimedia and technology expert, makes the creation of SiLAS firmly grounded in curriculum that has been proven to help students learn and build social skills. The two identified a need to address and help those children who struggled to understand and learn important social skills.

“Children who have a difficult time learning social skills often gravitate toward the computer and technology,” said Chris. “We realized we could put the two together.”

Often children with autism and other social disabilities are taught social skills through workbook programs and other social skills curriculum on the market. But Chris and Bernadette believe this approach doesn’t give children the opportunity for the level of interaction and rehearsal needed to continually learn important individual social skills.

“Applications can provide learning opportunities, but they do not promote the practice and review of real life socialization and verbal exchange as SiLAS does,” said Chris.

With autism on the rise, the need for new and innovative products to teach social skills is vital. Chris and Bernadette hope to bring their software to public and private schools, afterschool programs, hospitals, pediatric private practices and clinics to help them stay on the cutting edge of social skills technology.

“SiLAS is the newest thing out there for social skill learning,” said Chris. “We’re changing with the times and we’re not using 30-year old curriculum.”

Small Factory Young Filmmakers Get Their Time On The Big Screen at FilmYoungFest This Weekend

Small Factory Young Filmmakers Get Their Time On The Big Screen at FilmYoungFest This Weekend

Imagine being only nine years old and seeing your own film creation on the big screen. In front of more than 2,000 people.

FilmYoungFest Photo

Clockwise: Luca, Kyle, Vincent and Clare

Four kids from Small Factory Productions will have their animated short films debuted at the seventh annual FilmOneFest this coming Saturday, July 18 at the Atlantic Highlands Marina. These films will be shown as part of FilmYoungFest, the newest addition to the festival promoting the talents of young filmmakers.

At Small Factory Productions, kids learn from a digital arts curriculum that introduces and develops creative and real-world skills in visual, audio and performing arts. Through Small Factory’s animation class, children’s imaginations can soar while being introduced to creative writing, art, music and acting. These young producers dream up an original story and turn it into a mini cartoon movie. From developing characters and backgrounds, to writing scripts, these young filmmakers do it just like the pros.

Clare Gibb is only 11, but she has a big imagination. Her film, “The Talking Pig,” follows the story of Larry, the talking pig. Larry is a little bossy, but then he transforms into something no one saw coming (You didn’t really think we were going to give away the ending did you?).

“I love making a brand new character that has never been made like I made it,” Clare said. “I made my own characters and I created my own story from my imagination.”

Clare’s mom, Tara, has seen the life skills Clare has gained while being at Small Factory.

“She had to pull it all together — for the good of the pig!” said Tara. “These new skills are the ones she can build on as she becomes more experienced with using the tools and her imagination. We’re very proud of her first project!”

Watch Clare’s Animation “The Talking Pig” !

Thirteen-year old Kyle McCarthy is looking to the future with his animated movie, “The Elementals.” The film is a theme-song like animation for a series he plans to animate.

“This series is about five magical beings, each with a connection to an element, living together to protect their planet and search for their long lost leader,” said Kyle.

Impressed yet?

Kyle loves to make the characters he dreamed up come to life, but he also likes the technical side. One of his favorite parts of the Animation project was learning the animation software. He knows that being a part of Small Factory gives him the opportunity to shape his thoughts into moving characters.

“Small Factory lets me be surrounded by other individuals who have the same creativity and passion for animation that I do, and learning from them helps me perfect my projects,” said Kyle.

In 9-year old Luca Todorov’s film, legendary superhero Spiderman apparently needs to hit the gym. “Amazing Fat Spiderman” is an ironic and humorous rendering of the Spiderman adventures, because Spiderman is “out of shape.” Luca is an old pro at making animations, and has made several animated films, almost all of them with an element of humor.

“When I came to Small Factory I didn’t know anything about animation or special effects,” said Luca. “After a year, I learned a lot of stuff and now I can make animation myself.”

Luca’s dad, Alex, says the entire family loves Small Factory, and is thrilled with the skills Luca has been learning. And he’s not the only one.

“He just impressed one of my friends who is a professional cameraman and an editor,” said Alex.

Vincent Mann Jr., 10, uses his real life as inspiration in “Mr. Red’s Explosion,” the tale of a man who0

“It’s fun to make up my own characters and learn how to make my own movies,” said Vinny. “Learning animation is fun!”

FilmOneFest is an international festival of one-minute movies that has become a major attraction in Monmouth County. The festival was named “the best little film festival in the world by

As part of FilmOneFest, FilmYoungFest gives youth of varying ages a platform to express their creative visions and personal statements, all within the one-minute framework of FilmOneFest. Having four Small Factory children in the festival is a source of pride for the event.

“It’s going to be a fun festival with great new additions,” said Beth Herbruck, organizer of the FilmYoungFest and a past FilmOneFest Co-Director. “It always makes me additionally excited when we can include local talent in FilmOneFest. The fact that we can incorporate more young, up-and-coming filmmakers in the new FilmYoungFest and support our local creative community is a win-win.”

For more information on the festival, visit

Think your child is a perfect fit for the creative environment at Small Factory Productions? Visit the Small Factory website at for more information.






At Small Factory, Kids Can Put On A Show, Grow and Thrive

There’s something magical about performing at Small Factory Productions. Maybe it’s the adrenaline. Maybe it’s the energy of the audience. Or maybe it’s that the performers on stage are children; children who thrive and utterly enjoy the mere act of being on stage in front of an audience.

Kids can put on a show

These kids are part of the Put On A Show Class at Small Factory Productions. The class is an improvisational acting class of sorts, really a laid back version of putting on a show. There are no bells or whistles; it’s organic. Children create, act, sing and even dance a little while bringing certain childhood classics to life.

Ellen Phillips, the drama teacher at Small Factory, doesn’t aim for perfection when teaching her classes how to put on a show; she simply wants them to become comfortable performing and confident being in front of people.

“The goal is to get the quietest kid to want to speak up, to want to be creative,” said Ellen.

The Put On A Show Class was born out of a want in the area for a class that would help kids learn to perform and foster creativity. The class just wrapped up its fourth performance and has grown bigger with each passing year.

With performances like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Free To Be… You and Me, and Charlotte’s Web, the Put On A Show Class seems to add a new element with each performance. On June 10, the class tackled Schoolhouse Rock. And rock they did.11116322_10153347447979293_1507754110219722047_o

“The kids had so much fun,” said Ellen. “Schoolhouse Rock is timeless and bridges the age gap. There was a chance for everyone to be the star, and the kids had a blast.”

Even the parents loved it.

“I love when the kids find the ability to laugh and figure out that it’s ok to go a little bit off script and improv. It’s a gift to learn that,” said Ellen. “Watching the kids build their confidence on and off stage is so rewarding.”

Think your child would be a good fit for the Put On A Show Class? Ellen said the class is a great for shy kids, comedians, and creative kids alike.

“There’s no real cookie cutter version of a kid who should do this class,” she said. “The kid who is shy but sings at home, or the kid who loves to perform, or the kid who is a comedian or shows a creative interest. They would all thrive here.”

The Put On A Show Class is a two session, ten week class, meeting on Fridays from 4-5:30 p.m. The session runs from mid fall to late spring. Check the Small Factory website for registration details.


Cartooning and the Power of Imagination

Summer is almost here, and surely your family is looking forward to beach trips, poolside relaxation, amusement park fun, and strolls on the boardwalk. Your calendar is probably already booked with lots of preplanned events to keep the kids occupied! But when your little bundles of energy aren’t splashing and running around, they’ll need to find ways to exercise their minds. At Small Factory, we have lots of exciting programs that allow your child to express his or her creativity and learn new things, all while having fun with friends (and staying cool!)

One program that will really get your child’s imagination soaring is Create-A-Cartoon. This program introduces children to creative writing, art, music and acting. Your child will instantly become a young producer and work with other children to dream up an original story that will be turned into a mini cartoon movie. They journey through the production process while developing characters, backgrounds, props, scripts and music.

A main component of creating a cartoon is storytelling, a process that helps children to learn how to organize their thoughts and express creativity. Storytelling may well be the cornerstone of imaginative development. And a child with a good imagination is happier and more alert, better able to cope with life’s twists and turns, and more likely to grow into a well-adjusted, secure adult.

Through the process of creating a cartoon, your child will develop forces of creativity that will benefit them throughout their whole life. Creative individuals see things in new ways and find solutions to problems others might miss. That kind of problem-solving and innovative thinking begins with the power of imagination.

In Create-A-Cartoon, children will also develop teamwork skills. They can either create their own group to develop the cartoon or work with new friends. The ability to work together with others as part of a team is a vital skill used in all areas of life. Working as part of a team will strengthen your child’s social and emotional skills, help develop their communication skills, and can improve confidence.

Small Factory owner Chris Dudick’s goal with the Create-A-Cartoon program is to give children the ability to create and produce anything they want – an opportunity he wishes he had while growing up.  His love of cartooning, illustration and animation started at an early age; however, he didn’t have the resources found at Small Factory to express his interest. He was still able to follow his passion throughout his childhood, and later became an illustrator, cartoonist, graphic designer, animator, writer and editor.  He’s worked on children’s shows for Nickelodeon, Nicktoons, Cartoon Network, and AOL. The experience he’s gained from this work has allowed him to develop the Create-A-Cartoon program, drawing inspiration from the same process gone through to create the popular children’s shows you see on television today.

Cartooning and the Power of ImaginationThe process of creating a cartoon during the Create-A-Cartoon program beings with a group discussion of what goes into making a cartoon, such as the characters, settings, sound effects, problems and solutions. The Small Factory instructors work with the students to develop the characters by asking them questions to get ideas forming. By asking these questions, the instructors are showing the students that they can create any character they want. They explain that the character cannot be something that already exists on television or in a movie. The character has to be from their imagination.

From there, the students explain what kind of characters they would like to see in their story. Once they come up with a few different characters, the students go through a creative process Small Factory Productions’ calls “character mashing,” to finalize the cast. Once characters are mashed, it’s time to get a better sense of the role each character will play in the story. To help that process, students work together to identify character traits that the stories can build upon.

Finally, the students and instructors work together to write the final script. Once the script is written, the students work with a music instructor to write a theme song. The process ends with the students getting to record their voices for their character and sing/record the theme song.

Recently, Small Factory Productions and Friendship Train Foundation, in association with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, held a contest for students to create and submit characters to star in the cartoon “If You Can See It, You Can Be It!” Ten submissions were chosen and the students created the cartoon at Small Factory, going through the Create-A-Cartoon process.

The cartoon was inspired by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media mission to change female portrayals and gender stereotypes in children’s media and entertainment.

The story takes place in Inspirewood – a place where movies are made. Two of the biggest movie producers come up with an idea to make a movie with an equal balance of male and female characters. During the casting call, actors audition for certain roles based on their gender and appearance, but wish they could play other roles they typically wouldn’t be expected to play.

For example, Julie, a girl in a wheelchair, originally tries out for the role of a maid but wishes she can play the super hero. Maximus, a body builder, originally tries out for the role of the super hero but wishes he could play the maid. At the end of the casting call, the producers ask the actors if there is a role they would have rather tried out for. All the actors raise their hands, and the producers let them know they’ve decided to get rid of stereotypes in movies and cast the actors as the roles they really want to play.

Watch the cartoon “If You Can See It, You Can Be It!” here. You can watch all cartoons and claymation shorts created by Small Factory students on our YouTube Channel.

Small Factory is offering Create-A-Cartoon summer camps throughout August:

Week 8: August 3rd – 7th Create-A-Cartoon & Comic Strip (Ages 4-6)

Week 11: August 24th- 28th Create-A-Cartoon (Ages 6-9)

For more details on the camps and to register, visit this link.  Cartooning classes are offered throughout the year. Register for our next session of classes here.

Cartooning and the Power of Imagination


Minecraft Strengthens Math, Programming and Designing Skills

Minecraft Strengthens Math, Programming and Designing Skills

Are you one of those parents wondering what in the world your kids are doing with those pixilated building blocks in Minecraft? You’ve probably heard your child talking about mobs and mods and not quite sure what it even means. The game Minecraft has recently become a phenomenon. There’s a reason why so many children (and even adults) enjoy playing the game and there are plenty of educational benefits that come from it.

In Minecraft, users create structures in a 3D environment (think of it as virtual Lego). Minecraft differs from other modern video games not only because of its simple, pixilated appearance, but also because its objective is to design and construct, rather than destroy. tinkercadpic2

So what makes Minecraft so particularly suited to educational use? The program can help teach numerous skills and subjects, including building, designing, math and programming.  Learning in Minecraft can actually be faster than traditional methods of education, as children are often far more motivated because they enjoy working in the program, and feel that what they are learning is useful.

Even open play on Minecraft can improve visual-spatial skills since users are working with objects in space to create structures. And if the users are working together to build structures, they learn how to collaborate.

Small Factory offers several programs and classes involving Minecraft throughout the year. Every Sunday from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. is Minecraft Mania, where kids play in creative mode while our instructor gives tips and strategies. This summer we’ll be offering a Programming & Open Play for Minecraft Summer Camp. We’ve also previously offered a Minecraft and 3D Printing Class and will do so again sometime in the future.

In the Programming & Open Play for Minecraft Summer Camp, children ages 6 to 9 will learn the basics of programming using Minecraft as a foundation to build upon. They will be introduced to programming in the language LUA, a basic programming language.

Using a computer mod for Minecraft, students will learn to make their own programs and machines called “Turtles” inside the game. Using input and output, the students will talk to the Turtles to make the game of Minecraft work for them and complete tasks. Some of the tasks will include cutting and planting trees, building staircases, digging tunnels, building houses and structures, and farming crops so they’ll never run out of food.

Students will go home with directions on how to download and install the computer mod for Minecraft so they can use what they learned at home. The Programming & Open Play for Minecraft Summer Camp encompasses math, programming, building, and designing. In the computer mod for Minecraft, the students will need to use math to program the size and area of space they’d like the Turtle to cover, otherwise it will keep moving forever in free space. They’ll also need to count how many blocks it goes up and down.

This camp is offered during the following weeks of Summer Camp:1477701_10153153533654293_915716867162944435_n

Week 1: June 15th– 19th
Week 2: June 22nd – 26th
Week 3: June 29th – July 3rd
Week 9: August 10th – 14th

Visit this link for more information on scheduling and pricing.

In our Minecraft and 3D Printing class, students use the online app Tinkercad to build 3D objects they can print out on our 3D printer. They are also able to export their designs from Tinkercad into Minecraft and build them with blocks. The app is easy to learn, and has a very simple and intuitive way to make operations between objects.

This class encompasses math and designing. The students need to make their objects certain shapes and sizes to be proportionate so everything prints smoothly.  When exporting to Minecraft, in order to define the size, Tinkercad gives a reference based on mm (which is the unit used in Tinkercad’s grid). Let’s say you are building a castle –if you want to keep the level of detail on the battlements, the size in mm can’t be more than 2mm per Minecraft block. The lower this number, the higher the resolution and the higher the size inside Minecraft.tinkercadpic1

Parents – if you’re new to Minecraft and not quite sure what your child is referring to when talking about the program (it can seem like an alien language!), here’s a glossary of some of the most common terms from the game. Impress your kids with your Minecraft vocabulary!

Biome. Biomes are regions in the Minecraft world, such as jungles, forests, and deserts.

Creative/survival. Creative and survival are two of the main game modes of Minecraft. Creative mode lets players build anything they want. Survival mode is the standard game mode wherein players have to collect resources, fight mobs, and explore.

Creeper. One of the most recognizable monsters in Minecraft. Creepers are an aggressive mob that try their best to sneak up on a player before exploding.

Mob. A mob is any living creature in the game. Some mobs are passive, such as horses and chickens, whereas others can be very hostile, such as Creepers.

Mod. Mod is short for “modification” and is essentially anything that changes the content of the game. It can refer to anything from adding new materials to adjusting design elements in creative mode to adding difficulty levels.

Pickaxe. Pickaxes are one of the standard Minecraft tools that are used to mine bricks for important materials.

Sandbox. Sandbox is a type of video game with an “open world” design wherein players have the option to modify the game world as well as explore without restrictions or limitations.

Server. A Minecraft server lets players engage in multiplayer games online.

Skin. A skin is any texture placed on an avatar or mob that allows players to further customize the game.