In which Miss Molly talks about selection.

It’s always difficult to know what is best in the world of technology and apps. There are so many choices, so many publishers, so many claims about each product that sorting through them can be a chore. With concerns about proper brain development, and conflicting views and information regarding screen time for children, how do you know what is best? What does engagement look like? What does balancing screen time with other activities look like? How can we, as parents, educators, and guardians, help the children in our charge make good technological choices?

While there is no hard and fast answer, we (a dedicated group of librarians) are on the case, trying to do as much leg work as possible to make these choices less daunting. As Clarisa Kluver says, “When it comes to learning, technology is a tool, but it’s not the only tool.”

Family Confidential had a great video about how to choose wonderful kid’s apps. She talks about a rubric about what kinds of things to look for in quality apps. What goal are you looking to accomplish? Look for content that will bring about that objective. Kluver mentions that, at one point, she wanted her child to be a bit more creative and more adventerous with art. While her child was not a reluctant reader, he was a reluctant artist when it came to pen and paper. So, she found an app which encouraged him to draw freehand on the iPad,

This type of goal isn’t usually what’s focused on for most apps, at least in the resources that I religiously follow. The common criteria is learning, learning, learning, which screams math, science, and reading literacy. But there are many avenues of learning. Keeping in mind that kids need to find the app interesting before they can engage with the content. If the child isn’t wowed by the app, then there won’t be any learning. And that doesn’t mean that it should be covered in bells and whistles. It can be simple and still be engaging. Kids are inundated with flashy lights and sounds. Sometimes they need a break from that.

Another important aspect to remember is that not all apps are created equal, and that they should be judged by a specific set of criteria. Kluver talks about her criteria in the talk that I linked above: essentially it boils down to establish your goal, be careful of being distracted by the bells and whistles. Her advice: Pick 3 things that are important. She mentions

1-make sure your kid enjoys the app, and isn’t getting tired of the app or the content within. 2-Aggressively test apps before handing those apps off to your child. You need to know what each app holds, and how it’s presented, make sure the topic and content is appropriate, developmentally appropriate material, reviews from real life parents, etc.
3- Be Wary, be choosy, be aware. Not all apps are looking out for the best interest of you or your family. I know, a shocking thought. Some things to watch out for are what Kluver calls coercive monetization — aka, in-app purchases, or apps that automatically link to your iTunes account and from there have access to your credit card. While you should always be wary of having a linked credit card to your account, this is especially the case for when young children are playing with apps–both with supervision and without. You should also be aware if the app continuously crashes, as that is a lack of quality. Also, be wary of  links that leave the app and bring to user to the web, send emails through other programs, etc. We as the media consumers need to think about what other parts of our tablets that the app we are using taps into. Along those same lines, we need to be aware of ads, which can be inapporiate for the audience, and we need to make sure that the app we are using doesn’t contains developmentally inappropriate content.

This rubric, from Bethpage Public Library, talks about what type of criteria they use, as a library, to choose apps and gives tips to parents and caregivers to do the same. They use trusted resources such as Fred Rogers (Of Mr. Roger’s fame), Common Sense Media, and real parents, etc.

And finally, balance. Balancing Screen Time from happy stuff is a great place to start. The author shares what she does with her family and how it works. Seeing the ideas put into successful practice really does make the difference between theoretical and practical. She uses circles of activities to keep her 4 year old from getting too bogged down. Activities include chores, going outside, reading a print book, art, etc. A mixture of activities is key. Learning happens through play–of many forms.

I hope this has been interesting and helpful for you all. What do you think? Do you have any great articles to share on the subject?


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