Apps & kids: expert advice from Michael Levine


Image from JGCC’s Family Time with Apps

As we develop our apps, we look to data-rich resources to strengthen them. One of the best resources is the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (JGCC). The JGCC’s mission is to help kids who struggle in traditional education settings. Their research is focused on answering the question: how can we use digital technology to help these kids?

When we learned that Michael Levine, Founding Director of the Cooney Center would be discussing his new book, Tap, Click, Read, and answering questions about advancing children’s learning in the digital age at NYU Poly, a few of us eagerly joined for the lunchtime conversation.

Guided by Beth Noveck (former United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government), Levine provided his insights based on his years of research. Here are our biggest takeaways:

We need to focus on the quality of media our kids are consuming rather than the quantity. Screen time isn’t the best metric.

Levine admits that technology isn’t passive. It influences how we interact with each other and with the world. But that influence can be shaped. Many tech tools and games are designed to be used across generations and can increase family together time.

And, guidance from parents who play alongside their children can provide kids with the support they need to achieve learning goals at a higher level than they might be able to accomplish on their own.

Finding quality educational apps isn’t easy.

As Levine describes it, “it’s the digital Wild West” out there. There are literally a million apps and 100,000 of them are labeled “educational.” Figuring out which ones are actually good is a tough job for parents. Levine suggests reading and following sites like the Children’s Technology Review, Common Sense Media, and Moms With Apps.

(See what these sites have to say about Tinybop apps here, here, and here. Also: we were thrilled that Tinybop got a nod of approval from Levine himself! )

Engaged parents trump the best media.

Levine says, “an engaged parent is almost always better than 30 minutes of media.” But we all know that sometimes parents need a break. At those times, quality media like Sesame Street and apps that support co-play can be a huge help, furthering positive messages and engagement while giving parents a little free time.

So many research studies and resources were mentioned during the conversation; for further reading and inspiration, here they are: