Is there really an app for that?

Screens are everywhere, permeating every part of our life these days, it seems. There are “learn to read apps” for smartphones and “kid screens” made specifically for little hands, the most popular, perhaps, being those made by the omnipresent LeapFrog corporation. As parents, we’re not merely trying to fill the time spent in waiting rooms and keep our children quiet in restaurants, but we’re told these “learning toys” will really help our kids learn. On their website, the makers of the popular Leapster2 Learning System promise parents:

“The Leapster2 handheld offers a robust learning experience through built-in tutorials and learning levels that adapt automatically to your child’s pace. Its touch screen and stylus help develop motor skills used in writing. It’s also compatible with all 40+ Leapster learning games, so kids can practice a wide variety of skills for school as they play and learn with their favorite characters.”

If your child is not old enough for the Leapster2, say, he’s under the age of 4, there’s the Vinci, a handheld “android-like” product aimed at this age bracket. The Vinci, with two models priced at $389 and $479, claims that:

“Unlike ordinary e-books, VINCI’s fusion of creative animations and voice prompts create an optimal learning experience for your child. Some of our storybooks have built-in mini-games that help develop your child’s observation, decision-making and organizational skills.”

Now, perhaps I’m some kind of stone-age mom, but I’m suspicious. I mean, what about books. Will they work? If you don’t know how to read, an actual, physical book just sits there. It doesn’t cue you into the initial sound in the words. It doesn’t point out the picture clues that might let you know what the text is about. It doesn’t even make a noise when it’s time to turn the page, for pete’s sake!

It turns out…that’s fine- preferable, even- when it comes to early literacy.

This article, by Lisa Guernsey of Time Magazine, shows the benefits of just breaking out the books. Studies by researchers at Temple University are showing that kids just aren’t wired for “e-reading” with their parents. The natural dialogue that occurs between parents and their children about the text changes, and even without parental input, the software itself can overwhelm the purpose of the activity for the child.

The good news? You can buy a whole lot of children’s books for the $389 you won’t have to spend on the Vinci. The bad news? Keeping kids quiet in public isn’t helping them learn. Stick of sugar free bubble gum, perhaps?

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