Flipboard Parenting turned me onto a really great new site for parents called A Matter of App. Developmental psychologist and education media researcher Cynthia Chiong has created a nifty review system for children’s oriented apps. The page itself is organized quite well, as she has her posts sortable by overall rating, age (so far in the 3 to 8-year-old range), subject matter, and platform. She admits fully that as a one-woman operation she has not been able to keep up with the massive proliferation of apps available, but what she is able to get to she reviews quite thoroughly, and always with an eye on both the developmental and the fun aspects.
Her ratings system is based on four categories: Developmental Appropriateness (does the app have the qualities that engage the target age range); Balance (does it have the proper balance of features to make game play fun and simple without being distracting); Sustainability (is this a game that kids will likely want to come back to?); and Parental Involvement (how easy is it for parents to play a part in the game along with the children).
I find the last category quite intriguing, as I must say as a parent the only way I have been using the smart phone apps with my kids is to see whether I can best their score at Fruit Ninja. The world of app games has been more of a reward to my kids—yes, you can go play Doodle Jump after you are done with your chores. When it comes to the developmental side, my notion was more to the fact that smart phone and tablet technology is something native to my boys’ world, so it is a good thing for them to become familiar with how it works. It’s also been a boon to our family when it comes to the weekday wakeup, as my younger son, usually slow and cranky to rise, now pitter-pats happily down the stairs in the morning as he can use his ESPN Score Center app to give us a full run-down on the late evening games (“Dad, your Clippers beat the Nuggets—on the ROAD!”)
So the notion of having someone looking at apps with an eye toward genuine co-play within this world is a great tool. Indeed, Cynthia (I know I don’t know her personally, but her style makes me want to use her first name) goes into some detail in a very good post on parental misconceptions on children and app use that, irregardless of whether you find the site itself useful, I would highly recommend you not only read this post, but just go ahead and read her full (but relatively short) print article she wrote that this post excerpted from (you can find the link to the .pdf at the bottom of her post).
Her essential point is that it is actually crucial for parents not to see educational apps as things they “just give their kids” but as tools that allow parents to become better mentors to their kids, regardless of their familarity with the actual material (“the app can teach my kid better than me” misconception) or with the functionality of the app (“my kid works my iPhone better than me, so I can’t really help her/him” misconception). She makes a very convincing case that, at least at the beginning, it’s important for you and your child to try out a new app together to ensure not that your child is using the app properly from a format perspective, but that true learning is actually happening. Her analogy of the interactivity of the smart phone touch screen technology to a pop-up book (statistics have shown that kids learn better from flat books because they get too distracted) playing with the pop-up bits) was a very eye-opening comparison for me.
I am going to forward Cynthia’s article to my school board, because they are extremely focused right now on narrowing the “learning gap” yet much of their technology budget has been spent on attempting to make classroom learning tools available on traditional computers. Statistics show that more immigrant and minority communities are using mobile devices as their primary internet source, so it’s worth considering how much to invest in traditional computer technologies from an educational standpoint when mobile technologies are both more prevalently used by the communities that are most susceptible to learning gap issues, and because mobile technologies simply give users are more flexibility as to where they are doing their learning. The latter is important as this very interesting study shows that people retain information better by doing their studying in a variety of locations, rather than sitting in the same place all the time (there’s much more to say on that study, but I’ll save it for another time).
As for me, I think I am going to adjust my parenting habits a bit. First I’m going to regement my kids Droid and iTouch time a bit, giving them a more limited time to use the “empty apps” like Jelly Car and Angry Birds, but give them open season on the more educational apps. I’m also going to spend more time learning all their apps, whether they’re about blasting numeric equations or slicing fruit with a sword (can you tell I like Fruit Ninja?) in order to better ensure that they are getting the most out of the games, and maybe learn a thing or two from my boys in the exchange.
So if you are a parent with a child form preschool through elementary, definitely go check out A Matter of App—well worth both a first visit and consistent check back (or you can sign up for her Twitter feed, if that’s your bag.