By Robyn Monaco
Is there a parent among us who hasn’t downloaded an “educational” app for our baby or toddler?
I did for a flight from Baltimore to Rapid City, S.D., with a four-hour layover in between. It seemed like the right thing to do. Just another item in my survival pack of extra diapers, wipes and clothes. It could be the one thing to get us through the trip scream-free.
And yet, I felt guilty when I used the app with my 1-year-old. Because as a librarian, I know that the jury is still out on all of the effects of digital media where very young children are concerned. Even the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under age 2 get no screen time at all. Yet in a recent AAP study, 90 percent of parents said their 2-and-under kids use some form of electronic media.
Our children are being raised in an increasingly digital world. But even with all the focus on ebooks and educational apps these days, old-fashioned print books still provide a superior reading experience — especially for young children whose literacy skills are just beginning to emerge.
Paper books enable total immersion in reading — no hyperlinks or need to make choices while asking “Should I click on this?” In fact, research cited in the School Library Journal article “Too Soon?” suggests that the visual and aural gimmicks and game-like features embedded in many kids’ ebooks draw young readers’ attention from the written words, diminishing their memory of what was read.
Let’s be realistic. There are circumstances when a conveniently available iPhone app is the difference between sanity and a meltdown. Maybe you are three-quarters of the way through a flight and have already exhausted your supply of books and toys with no nap in sight. Maybe you’re at the doctor’s office for your little one’s routine wellness visit when she begins to remember that this is the place where the shots are given. Or maybe you’ve spent the entire evening carrying your child around the house because that is the only way they will stop crying and you’d like a few minutes to just sit down.
We librarians know these moments happen so we’d like to acquaint you with some online clearinghouses that review and rate children’s media. These resources can help you find digital tools that are easy to use, playful, make connections to your child’s everyday experiences, and are open-ended and interactive. Among the best are Common Sense Media, Graphite, Appysmarts and Children’s Technology Review.
Regardless of what apps you download, the absolute key is that you engage in exploring these digital tools together with your child. Have your little one sit in your lap to create a cozy, fun, interactive experience as you tap and swipe away. Talk to your child about what is happening on the screen. Ask questions. Your child learns and grows best when he or she is with you and having fun playing, singing and talking. Follow the joy together.
If you’d like some apps that are ready to go when the next meltdown is fast approaching and your everyday toolbox of toys, nursery rhymes, books and peekaboo games are not cutting it, here are a few apps that we recommend for you to enjoy with your child:
Work with your child to learn the names of animals and hear the sounds they make. Tap on the bouncing red barn to open the doors and see and hear from the adorable animals inside. This app is a simple and fun way to spend some time on the virtual farm with your little one.
Make simple tap games using your own family photos and voice that will delight your child as she learns more about herself and her loved ones.
Sago Mini Sound Box
Introduce your child to sound and music! Just shake, rattle and tap together and listen for cheerful chimes, horns, drums, animals and more. Works with multi-touch, so have fun playing together with your child!
This application features six fully interactive scenes that encourage you and your child to interact with cute and lovable characters who are ready to go to sleep.
Happy Baby Faces
Babies love looking at other babies! Super easy interface allows you and your little one to look at high quality photos of endearingly cute babies. Plus, shake the phone to hear rattles! Features a lock mode so as not to let curious fingers make calls or launch other applications.
My First App
Help your little one tap on the smiling baby face and you see a photo of a happy baby making happy sounds. If you tap on the unhappy baby face, you get the opposite. That’s it!
Smart Tot Rattle
High contrast images with bold colors and simple shapes paired with a realistic rattle sound.
This app allows you to make alphabet flash cards using your own digital photos. You can make several decks of flashcards, including ones that feature photos of your family and neighborhood.
And after you survive the meltdown together with the assistance of these apps, come visit us at the Urbana Regional Library with your little one. We have lots of highly interactive board books that are even more fun than apps!
Editor’s Note: Robyn Monaco is the children’s librarian at the Urbana Regional Library. She’s also a Villages of Urbana resident.