Can apps make kids smarter?
This is an interesting question that has generated a lot of attention recently. Last month the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood launched a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Fisher Price and Open Solutions regarding their marketing practices for their apps. The complaint accuses both companies of deceptive marketing in trying to convince purchasers that their apps can teach babies new skills and make them smarter. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood was previously successful in its complaint against Disney and its Baby Einstein videos for similar reasons and a nationwide refund was ordered by the courts.
In 2010, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center in partnership with PBS KIDS funded a study about kids’ usage of apps and whether they could learn from them. Rockman et al (REA), an evaluation firm gave 90 Children aged 3 to 7 an iPod touch with two apps on it: Martha Speaks: Dog Party and Super Why. The children were given a pre and post-test on their literacy and content awareness skills covered in the apps and had two weeks to play. The research firm found that after the two weeks there was some improvement in kids’ reading and comprehension skills. Their early research results concluded that children can learn from well designed educational apps.
Given the newness of apps, this issue requires a great deal more research for us to have a definitive answer to the question of whether apps make kids smarter. However, the question itself seems narrow. As parents and teachers we utilize all sorts of tools to teach our kids. We use books, flash cards, hands on experiences, play, field trips and conversation to help our kids learn new skills including reading, math, science, history and social skills. Interactive apps that are designed to help kids learn about things they love are just another addition to our learning toolkit. We shouldn’t rely on any one thing to teach our kids.
Rather than asking whether apps alone make kids smarter, maybe we should concentrate on making sure that the apps we choose have the intention of contributing to learning rather than just creating profit at every opportunity for the companies that make them.
Smart choices by parents definitely do help make kids smarter!