Toddlers and tablets

Long before they start kindergarten, American children are playing with education tech at home, writes Alex Hernandez in Toddlers and Tablets on Education Next. At the iTunes store, “9 of the top 10 paid education apps are designed for small children, ages four and up.”

Touchscreens are the most intuitive interfaces ever created for small children. I still remember the weekend morning in 2008 when our 18-month-old padded into our bedroom, grabbed his mom’s new iPhone off the nightstand, turned on his favorite song, and began pawing through photos.

. . . Leading app developer Duck Duck Moose believed it was designing for four- and five-year-olds when it noticed two-year-olds using its math apps. Dragonbox, an algebra program for children eight and up was being used by five- and six-year-olds. No one informed these kids that they weren’t ready for higher-level math.

Children do incredible things when they are free to explore and learn.

Parents are dubious about young children using technology, Hernandez concedes. He thinks tablets are seen as too expensive for grubby-fingered preschoolers. There’s also a backlash against excess screen time. Education apps should supplement, not replace, hands-on play, Hernandez writes.

App creators shouldn’t just try to teach pre-academic skills, such as categorizing objects or recognizing letter sounds.

 . . . research suggests that children’s ability to pay attention and control their impulses (i.e., executive functions) are better predictors of future academic success than IQ. Children’s ability to manage their attention, emotions, and behaviors; learn appropriate ways to interact with others; and be creative are equally, if not more, important but often harder to target than pre-academic skills.

But not impossible. App maker Kidaptive recently released a turn-taking game in which children paint pictures alongside two animated characters. Children using the app must literally sit and wait for the animated characters to complete their turns before resuming their own painting (defying many conventions of good game design). The metrics don’t lie. Kids are being patient and taking turns.

The best new apps will develop preschoolers’ executive function, creativity, number sense and phonemic awareness, Hernandez predicts. Schools may be slow to use these games. Parents already are buying them.

Why does Mr. Snuffleupagus snuffle?

Sesame Street is trying to teach nature, math, science and engineering ideas to preschoolers, reports the New York Times.

. . . (A cow) made it up the stairs to the beauty parlor but now, her bouffant piled high, she’s stuck. Cows can go up stairs, she moans, but not down.

Enter Super Grover 2.0. Out from his bottomless “utility sock” comes an enormous ramp, which, as the cow cheerily notes before clomping on down, is “a sloping surface that goes from high to low.”

It’s not about the letter C or the number 7  any more. Now Sesame Street is tackling “topics like how a pulley works or how to go about investigating what’s making Mr. Snuffleupagus sneeze,” reports the Times.

Zach Hyman

Murray Monster, shown here attending Robo Fun School, appears in science-focused segments with children.

Super Grover 2.0 “uses magnets, springs and ‘superpowers’ of investigation, observation and reporting to solve problems through trial and error. Before settling on a ramp for the stuck cow, for instance, he tries a trampoline.”

Last season, Elmo began starring in a daily musical that incorporates math.

On Sept. 24, Sesame Workshop will launch “Little Discoverers: Big Fun With Science, Math and More” on the web site. “In one game, little fingers manipulate a virtual spring to launch pieces of trash into Oscar the Grouch’s trash can, a Sesame Street version of ‘Angry Birds’.”

The 10 best TV shows for young kids

It’s OK for preschoolers to watch an hour a day of high-quality television, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics. But what’s high quality? Mike Petrilli lists The 10 Best Television Shows for Young Children.

Best Television Shows for Two- and Three-Year-Olds

1.   Kipper (available on Sprout and Netflix)
2.   Wonder Pets! (available on Nick Jr. and Netflix)
3.   Blue’s Clues (available on Nick Jr. and Netflix)
4.   Doc McStuffins (available on Disney Junior)
5.   Curious George (available on PBS Kids and Netflix)

Best Television Shows for Four- and Five-Year-Olds

1.   Backyardigans (availalbe on Nick Jr. and Netflix)
2.   Wild Kratts (available on PBS Kids)
3.   Dinosaur Train (available on PBS Kids and Netflix)
4.   Arthur (available on PBS Kids and Netflix)
5.   Super Why! (available on PBS Kids and Netflix)

Sesame Street isn’t what it used to be, writes Petrilli.

Study: TV can teach empathy to preschoolers

When 3- to 5-year-olds watch less violence on TV and more shows featuring cooperation and friendship, they’re less aggressive toward other children, concludes a study published in Pediatrics.

One group of parents received guides highlighting positive TV shows for children and newsletters encouraging them to watch with their kids and discuss  the best ways to deal with conflict. Researchers called monthly to help parents set television-watching goals for their preschoolers.

The control group got dietary advice, but no guidance on TV watching.

After six months, parents in the group receiving advice about television-watching said their children were somewhat less aggressive with others, compared with those in the control group. The children who watched less violent shows also scored higher on measures of social competence, a difference that persisted after one year.

Low-income boys showed the most improvement.

“It’s not just about turning off the TV; it’s about changing the channel,” said Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, the lead author of the study and a University of Washington pediatrics professor.

Preschoolers average 4.1 hours of television and other screen time daily, according to a 2011 study.

“Law enforcement sources” believe Adam Lanza was motivated to kill Newtown’s children by “violent video games“and his desire to outkill Andres Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer, reports CBS.  “Call of Duty” was his favorite.

Must-read-aloud books for little kids and parents

Mike Petrilli suggests the kindergarten canon, must-read-aloud books for little kids.

One of the great joys of parenthood is reading to my two young sons. Partly it’s the visceral experience: Little guys curled up on my lap, in their PJ’s, soft light overhead, the day winding down, sleep coming (well, one can hope). But it’s also about the books: An endless treasure trove of stories to share, pictures to enjoy, traditions to pass along.

Here’s his full list, which includes some of my old favorites: Goodnight Moon (I read this every night or recited it from memory), Corduroy and, from my childhood, Caps for Sale and Blueberries for Sal. And lots of others, of course.

PBS Kids vs. Nick Jr.

The best PBS shows for children are better than Disney Jr. and Nick Jr., writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli in In praise of PBS Kids. He thinks the government subsidy makes the difference.

The best PBS shows in my view—and my elder son’s!—actually teach something. Not something vague like “reasoning skills” but something concrete like science! Yes, his favorite shows are Sid the Science Kid and Wild Kratts, a very clever program about wildlife. At four and a half, he can’t read yet, but he can learn a ton about our world—and with his curiosity on overdrive, he’s eager to learn and learn and learn.

Other PBS shows are strong on content knowledge too, especially Dinosaur Trains and The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot about That. Others focus on teaching decoding and comprehension strategies—these stem from the early 2000s and reflect the Bush administration’s obsession with early reading — namely Word World, Super Why, and Word Girl. And the line-up is rounded out with several pleasant if content-free offerings that aim to teach character and the like (Arthur, Caillou, Clifford, and so forth).

Nick Jr. offers The Backyardigans, which is “brilliant.” He’s heard Disney’s Gaspard and Lisa is great for vocabulary. But he blames Nick for “the poisonous Sponge Bob Square Pants and the hugely annoying Dora the Explorer — the crack cocaine of children’s television.”

PBS shows are more educationally sound because “the Department of Education’s Ready to Learn program provides upwards of $30 million a year to develop high-quality programs” and related web sites and games, Petrilli writes.

In an e-mail discussion thread, parents and grandparents agreed that Caillou is loathesome.

As a good libertarian, Neal McCluskey thinks government should stay out of the TV business and questions whether “at-risk” kids watch PBS shows.

MATCH founder Michael Goldstein, the father of a four-year-old, doesn’t think PBS shows are “more educationally sound.”

1. Nick Jr shouldn’t be accountable for the fact that its sister channel, Nick, has SpongeBob.

That’s like holding Disney Channel accountable for John Carter. Or dinging Curious George because PBS has pledge drives. No relationship.

2. I’m not that impressed with PBS Dinosaur Train on dino content. Nick Jr. Dino Dan is at least its equal.

3. PBS Cat In The Hat has a lot of knowledge? What are you smoking there in Northern Virginia? It has Martin Short. Case closed.

4. I agree that Nick Jr Backyardigans is amazing — if that ran on PBS would you argue that it’s only possible b/c of the subsidy?

5. I agree PBS Kids has good science shows for kids. But

a. Since they do, Nick Jr presumably looks for the niche PBS doesn’t fill. One is multicultural characters that 3 and 4 year olds seem to like — Ni Hao Kai Lan, Little Bill, Dora, Diego.

b. If PBS didn’t produce the science shows, what makes you think that Nick Jr wouldn’t?

Nick Jr runs Team Umizoomi. It’s all about math. “Geo” and “Mili” are the lead characters, and most of the show is finding patterns. Why wouldn’t they do the same if PBS weren’t already on the scene?

It’s been many years since I watched Sesame Street with my preschooler in the pre-Dora era, so I have no dog in this hunt.

My three-year-old granddaughter has abandoned Elmo for Disney’s Peppa Pig. She now refers to herself as “Julia Pig” and calls her little sister “George Pig” after Peppa’s little brother. She’s picking up Peppa’s British accent, especially when she says, “Let’s give it a go!” or answers the phone, “Julia Pig speaking.”

Preschoolers average 4 hours of TV daily

Preschoolers watch TV for four hours a day, on average, reports a new study, “Preschoolers’ Total Daily Screen Time at Home and by Type of Child Care,” published in Pediatrics.

Children in home-based child care average 5.6 hours a day; the average for parent-only care is 4.4 hours.  Children in day-care centers spend less time watching TV.  The study reported a significant decline in TV hours for low-income children in Head Start.

Overall, black children watch considerably more TV; educated parents’ children watch considerably less.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents allow “no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day” for preschoolers.


Preschoolers meet their soldier

Home from Afghanistan, Sgt. Mark Alvares surprised his preschool pen pals, who happened to be celebrating Hero Week. Alvares’ wife, who teaches at Bright Horizons in Los Gatos, had helped the children send a painted flag, Valentine’s Day cards, Easter bunny ears, bracelets and a DVD of the kids singing to the troops. I was amused by this part:

“I played Army man a lot when I was a kid,” Alvares said. “Then I grew up to be one.”

“Well, I want to be a princess,” one girl said. “Me too, me too,” chimed a few other girls.

A reservist, Alvares will return to his job as a San Jose police officer.

An iPad for preschoolers

Fisher-Price will sell an iPad for the Preschool Set, reports New York Times’ Bit Blog.

The iXL is a tablet-style electronic device that opens like a book. It is Mac and PC compatible.

It has fat, colorful icons on the right side and buttons and a speaker on the other side. As you might expect, there are apps for the new product: Story Book, Game Player, Note Book, Art Studio, Music Player and Photo Album software.

And, my goodness, this puppy even has a touch-screen.

The iXL will sell for $79.99. I wonder how it stands up to spilled grape juice, Play-Doh crumbs and drool.

Australia: no TV for under-twos

Children under two should watch no TV and be kept away from computers or electronic games, say Australian government guidelines.

The guidelines warn that exposure to television at such an early age can delay language development, affect the ability of a child to concentrate and lead to obesity.

The recommendations also suggest that children aged two to five should watch no more than one hour of television a day.

The advice to parents — and proposed rules for child-care centers — call for no “screen time” for fear it will crowd out active play.