Combination print-digital book marks a new chapter for Latvian, Estonian children

By combining a traditional print book with high-tech, interactive digital features, educational researchers in Estonia and Latvia are making learning engaging, meaningful – and fun.

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New children’s books available in Estonia and Latvia use digital technology to let young readers interact with the story’s characters. ©Digital Learning Systems OÜ New children’s books available in Estonia and Latvia use digital technology to let young readers interact with the story’s characters. ©Digital Learning Systems OÜ

" At home, the book can be used as a reason for a conversation between kids and parents. In pre-schools, it is an excellent tool for use with play-focused lessons. This is potentially the first digital book in Latvian and the first attempt to digitalise a book specifically for educational purposes. "

Zanda Dzērve, kindergarten teacher from Rīga

In an increasingly digital world, it is becoming more and more difficult for teachers to get students to engage with books. Although they may read while at school, when they get home the screens are turned on. 

To address this problem, the EU-funded How the Shammies Learned project asked, “what if we could combine the two mediums?”

The answer is a new type of children’s book that, thanks to its embedded digital technology, allows young readers to interact directly with the story’s characters. Now, in homes and schools across Estonia and Latvia, children aren’t just reading – their listening to, talking with, and watching their books come to life.

How did the Shammies learn?

The Shammies are a popular series of children’s stories in Latvia. The books tell the adventures of Sockie, Hankie, Mitten, and Pillow, four curious creatures who are always playing and, with the help of their wise old friend Mr. Cat, learning new things. 

In this project, the Shammies’ many adventures are brought to life using optical identification (OID) technology developed in Estonia. By touching the OID digital pen to the book’s pages, which have special printing codes embedded, readers are able to hear sounds, questions, rhymes, and songs. 

Each of the five planned Shammies books contain 13 large, digitally-coded illustrations that teach vocabulary, language, and basic reading and maths concepts. For example, the book will ask the reader to point to the red objects on a page. If the reader points to a green object, the pen doesn’t say that they are wrong, but instead, with the voice of one of the Shammy characters gives a clue. 

Two books are picture books, while the others have both text and pictures. As all of the books aim to encourage creativity, they contain a number of original poems and songs a child can interact with. By pointing the pen to the picture, the characters encourage children to read the poems together with them, or for example, to stand up on one foot or wave their hands like a bird’s wings. 

A big hit in schools 

The books are being used in early childhood centres in both countries and have been successful in supporting a number of important educational goals, including the development of social skills, the understanding of mathematical concepts, and the building of basic literary skills. By combining Estonian technology with Latvian creativity, the books play an important role in building cross-border relations, promoting the sharing of cultures and encouraging learning of each country’s native language. 

Perhaps most importantly, the interactive Shammies books have succeeded in making reading fun. Instead of turning on TVs or tablets, children in schools and homes across Estonia are reaching for their digital pens, opening a book, and learning with the Shammies.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “How the Shammies Learned - Printed audio-learning materials for early childhood education” is EUR 445 449, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 370 725 through the “Interreg V-A - Estonia-Latvia” Operational Programme for the 2014-2020 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “Promoting entrepreneurship, facilitate economic exploitation of new ideas”.


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