iPhone Apps for Parents and Kids: Can't We Do Better Than This?
Late last week, I purchased an iPhone: my very first smartphone. And like every other newbie iPhone owner, I immediately started scouting out apps (those tiny applications that allow the iPhone to morph into a flashlight, a construction level, a dictionary, bubblewrap, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Or so it would seem).
One of the first categories I decided to check out what was on offer for parents and kids.
A lot of the apps that I looked at for parents seem to be out of touch with what parents would love to see in an app, circa 2010. Instead of designing these apps by considering what the technology can contribute to the lives of parents, the designers appear to have taken the opposite approach: a lot of app designers have designed iPhone apps by considering what the technology can do and then looking for a fit with the lives of parents. (It's a subtle but important difference.) That's why there are an abundance of contraction timers, baby activity trackers, and other similar apps: it's easy to program a piece of software to keep track of the metrics of parenting. It takes a lot more upfront thinking and planning to design an app that would function as the iPhone equivalent of a mom or dad brain.
Many apps for preschoolers seem to fall into a similar trap. You'll find flash card apps galore for babies and toddlers – this despite the fact that flash cards have been out of favor with the majority of parents for the past two decades. (Remember all those jokes about 1980s yuppie parents and their flash card obsessions? They eventually learned that a baby can learn the word "ball" even more effectively by drooling over a real ball.)
I talked to Allison McDonald of the popular parenting and early childhood education site No Time for Flash Cards about the iPhone flash cards app phenomenon. As I had anticipated, she wasn't overly impressed either.
"In general my opinion about flash cards are that they are simply not appropriate teaching tools for young children. Memorization is not learning: ...parrots can recite Shakespeare [but that] doesn't mean they understand it. They have merits for things like sight words, and when memorization is needed, but not when learning foundations for further knowledge, or when comprehension is the goal. Young children should be learning through play, being able to manipulate, associate context, and be creative. A static card is incapable of that.
"Flash cards aren't likely an experience a child will remember and cherish. They don't develop a love of learning. That to me as a mom and educator is paramount for this age group. That love will stay with a child throughout their life if the foundations are laid early on."
McDonald is also frustrated with the marketing messages
accompanying some of the iPhone flash card apps. For example: "Just choose
the set and your child can do the rest." (I was fascinated by the
marketing tagline for OccupyBaby: the app designed to "calm, entertain,
and educate babies, toddlers, and kids." Translation: "it will do
whatever you want it to do for whatever age of kid you have. Just click and
Screen time, anyone?
And then there are those screen time recommendations for kids to keep in mind (the American Pediatric Society recommends no screen time at all for kids under two; the Canadian Society of Pediatrics suggests a limit of no more than one to two hours per day for any member of the family). An iPhone or an iTouch is, after all, a tiny little screen, adorably packaged as it may be.
"To me these are huge red flags," McDonald explains. "Young children should not be handed an iPhone to learn from alone. A baby should be on the floor exploring the things on the flashcards with their parents. The babies will learn the same things by experiencing them through all their senses: not just watching them on a screen. Sit down and read, point out the pictures, and talk to your baby and they won't need flash cards."
McDonald also worries about the effect on kids if parents develop a bad case of one-app-manship: "My final concern is that these apps add fuel to the fire that parents feel pressure to keep up with their neighbours' child who is reading at age two and speaking three languages. We all need to chill out, let our kids develop their own interests, and use those [interests] as a launching pad for learning."
* * *So tell me: have I missed your favorite iPhone app for parents or for kids? (There are a lot of apps in that iTunes store, after all!) Have you been dazzled -- or disappointed -- by an iPhone app that you purchased to make your life as a parent easier or better? I'd love to hear what you have to say. Please post your comments below and let other parents who might be interested in having their say know that we're having this conversation here. Thanks!