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Can Mobile Apps Teach Kids?

The "pass back effect" in action

Not long ago, Paula wrote about the explosion in iPhone use among the preschool set. I agree with her that for very young children, iPhones shouldn’t be a fancy toy.  Our kids especially they young ones, get enough screen time as it is.  And yet, kids get their hands on mobile devices. When kids are even a little older, is a smart phone screen just a very small idiot box or can it be something more?

A new study from the Joan Ganz Moody Foundation of 114 children between the ages of 4 and 7 (a very small group) found that most kids get to use their parents’ smart phones on a limited basis, especially in the car. (They call it “the pass back effect.” Cute.)

Parents don’t think of the devices as educational or a tool for child development, but it probably makes drives a little quieter and, it turns out,  kids using some mobile apps can  learn a thing or two. In particular, the study found that an app for Martha Speaks helped kids learn new words, particularly among 5-year-olds.  The app for the show Super Why was more appealing to 4-year-olds.

Is this a surprise?  If a mobile app is carefully conceived and constructed to appeal to a specific age range, there’s no reason why a child won’t learn from it.  Will a child learn a lot from an app?  No.  In the way that kids won’t learn to read or subtract numbers from each other from a TV show, those skills can still be reinforced in an appealing way through humor and adventure and basic good storytelling and smart interactivity.  Toddlers shouldn’t be using them, but in moderation, it’s probably fine for older children.  The key is parents need to know what apps their kids are using and they need to keep track of how long their using them. If you’re going to pass back a smart phone, you should pass it back with an appropriate app queued up.

Personally, I don’t have a smart phone (or a car). This doesn’t stop my daughter from using an iPhone, though.  The other day, she grabbed a pink plastic “purse” (it doesn’t open) on her way out the door. “What’s that for?” I asked her as she was busy dragging her finger back and forth along the plastic surface.  “Oh,” she said airily, “it’s my iPhone.”  She got extra points for imagination from me, but, truthfully, she didn’t learn one new word.

What do you think about smart phones?  Do you “pass back” your device in the car? Can mobile apps for kids be educational?  If kids are allowed to use smart phones, should their screen time in other areas be cut back?

photo credit: examiner.com

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