Hi. I’m Emily.
I work in a library with kids.
Maybe you’ve noticed the web buzzing
this week with the news that
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
is urging the Federal Exchange Commission
to look into the marketing practices of two
companies that make apps targeted to babies,
Fisher-Price and Open Solutions.
They’re also arguing that apps can’t be
effective educational tools for babies.
Are they right?
Research is scant (apps simply haven’t been
around very long). Opinions and alarmist
1. Marketing anything,
app, video, book, toy, miracle elixir—
with the claim that it alone will
“make babies smart[er]”
is irresponsible and unfounded.
My feeling? The CCFC is right on two counts:
2. (Less importantly), Fisher Price’s “Laugh & Learn” apps
aren’t good apps for babies (or anyone).*
*I haven’t yet explored any apps by Open Solutions.
Try some of Fisher-Price’s, free: Let's Count Animals, Shapes & Colors
and useful conversation
about early literacy
and exploring apps with babies
is shut down, though,
when media outlets
(and some librarians)
leap from here…
…to the idea
that apps are inherently
“bad for babies”
and can never be
for reading, writing,
and talking together*
*the five practices of early literacy:
more here (and lots of other places))
Babies, left alone with tablets or phones
loaded with apps, will not magically
learn the alphabet…
…any more than they will magically
learn the alphabet if left alone with
a basket of board books.
What babies need
in order to learn (most things)
is (in-person) people.
On their own, babies can learn about taste and texture
from books (or iPads) by mouthing and touching them.
Beyond that, the value for babies in books (or apps)
arrives when babies explore them
together with another person.
They’ll especially benefit if this person points to the images, asks questions,
and talks and gestures animatedly while exploring.
No one* is suggesting that babies be left alone
with machines to be “educated”—
not even Open Solutions:
*other than Teddy Ruxpin
"We agree that screen models do not replace
live models as social partners.
We also don't say ‘get this game and let it teach your child
to read, write and talk in five languages.’
"We assume children (especially the youngest) are
playing the game with a parent/babysitter,etc.”
--statement to Mashable, 8/9/13
well-meaning, do not take into account
how babies learn. Babies learn through
interaction, touching, feeling, grabbing,
moving, and doing the same thing over
and over again.”
--Rachel G. Payne, SLJ.com, 8/9/2013
As a librarian, reading over the various articles covering the CCFC
story, I think the statement that frustrates me the most is the below,
from another librarian writing an article (not a comment, an article)
on School Library Journal’s website—
Back up…“Babies learn through
interaction, touching…and doing the
same thing over and over again”?
There’s an app
(even several developmentally-
appropriate good ones)
What follows is a selection of free apps
that—like age-appropriate board books—
do take into account how babies learn.
They’re all free, so please explore them to get a feel for
what age-appropriate apps for babies look like.
(One or two do have ads. If you like them, you should buy them—
the CCFC is also right that ads aren’t appropriate for babies).
• are simple, not busy or intricate
• do only one or two things
• don’t contain passive animated or video segments
• often focus on contrasts
As with age-appropriate board books, these apps should always ideally
(and certainly initially) be explored together with babies.
My First App by INBAL Tal
Babies are fascinated by photos of other babies. The first screen-grab
above is the main “page” of this app. If you tap on the smiling face, you
see one of a number of photos of happy babies and hear them make
happy sounds. If you tap on the unhappy face, you get the opposite.
You see hay bales
with tiny glimpses of an
animal peeking out from
You hear the hidden
animal make a noise.
You tap the hay bales, and
the animal is revealed.
Choose English or Spanish in the settings.
You tap a “button” (you can, or baby can) and hear a sound
like a light switch flicking on or off. The button changes color.
Sometimes there are fewer buttons. Sometimes there are
You tap a color and scribble
with your finger. Each color
makes a different sound--or
you can choose “music” so
each plays a different
Baby might not be able to
make many marks yet, but
baby’s caregiver can draw
shapes and talk about colors
and sounds with him.
Barnyard Friends Free
There are two keyboards.
One makes piano sounds
and makes the animal
just above the pressed key
The other makes animal
You can also tap animals
in scenes. They move
gently. Be sure to mute the
music when not playing
This app is as fantastic
as the grown-up in
baby’s life makes it.
It helps said grown-up
quickly and easily make
simple tap “games” with
his or her own photos
[For example, the grown-up in this
photo might record herself asking,
“Where is Auntie’s mouth? Where is
Baby’s mouth? Where is Auntie’s
nose? Where is BABY’S nose?”]
Like TinyTap, this app needs to be prepared for baby by her parents or
caregivers. My A-Z is really “just” a photo app (and simply exploring a photo
roll with baby should not be overlooked—that’s the best “app” there is!).
More on My A-Z : use this app to easily
make alphabet cards with your own
images. You can record up to 30
seconds of audio to go with each letter.
Babies love the sight of their loved ones’
faces and the sound of their loved ones’
voices. You can make several alphabet
sets, and a great first one will include
faces and familiar friends like “loveys”
and pets. As baby grows and explores
more of his world, add “Around the
Neighborhood” and “At the Store” decks,
and so on.
The publisher, Night & Day Studios, was thoughtful to give 30 seconds’
worth of recording time per image. Don’t waste it by simply repeating the
word you’ve typed. Make sounds; invent phrases! For example, for the
above O card, you might say,
“Oooh, Oooh, Oooh! Oh, Oh, Oh! Kellan got an OWIE and said Ouch, Ouch, Ouch!”
This is happening. So when caregivers ask us, as librarians
and early educators, for app recommendations for the
under-2 set, let’s work towards something more practical
(and caregiver-friendly) than condemning all explorations
of apps with babies—
—let’s educate ourselves and caregivers around how
to identify thoughtfully-designed, age-appropriate apps
and focus our energies on the message that, like books,
apps should be explored by caregivers and little ones
In October 2013, Common Sense Media posted their
finding that “38% of children under 2 have used a mobile
device for media (compared to 10% two years ago).”*