Is it OK to be an iKid?
As parents of young kids, and as iPad app developers, we're part of the discussion of whether – and how – kids should be using tablets.
We grew up watching (and loving) Mr. Rogers, who struggled with a similar quandary based on television – the new technology of his time. Fred Rogers felt strongly that TV should not be used as a substitute for human interaction, but as a tool for fostering communication between grown-ups and kids.
A joint statement this year by the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and the National Association for the Education of Young Children said, "effective uses of technology and media are active, hands-on, engaging, and empowering." The statement also suggests that, "interactions with technology and media should be playful and support creativity," and that, "when used appropriately, technology and media can enhance children's cognitive and social abilities."
We created the Wee Alphas app with this in mind. It was designed to encourage meaningful interactions between preschoolers and grown-ups. The app includes tips and questions to help parents encourage learning experiences, including practicing ABCs, discovering new words and concepts and inspiring creative thinking.
"We believe that some of the best app-related learning experiences happen away from the screen," said mom and Wee Society co-founder Jill Robertson. "Try talking about Wee Alphas on a weekend hike. Look for Sidney the Squirrel and Yolanda the Yeti. Ask what it would feel like to fly like Hai the Hummingbird, where you'd go, and what you'd see. And when you play the app that evening, share some of the things you saw on your morning hike that start with the letter 'B.'"
Some screen time – at home and school – will continue to be a part of most kids' lives. Michael Levine of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center recently told the Chicago Tribune that he recommends an approach similar to the food pyramid. "There will always be some empty calories," says Levine, "But the idea is to kick the balance toward the more healthful, nourishing choices, the kind of educational media that allow a child to have a more purposeful experience when they're seemingly being entertained."
Unfortunately, it's not easy for busy parents and teachers to make those healthy choices, with so many thousands of offerings available in the App Store today. When making decisions for our own families, we trust Common Sense Media, YogiPlay and Kindertown. Each of these organizations have smart people dedicated to evaluating and recommending the best in educational apps for kids.