EdTech: Helping Parents Understand Children's Learning and Development

There is a whole host of activity around discovery and quality in the world of children's educational apps. Different organizations and companies are trying to work out the best ways to support parents to sort through and understand what digital technology and apps are best for their children.

Recently, I wrote about the newest offering from Common Sense Media that is grounded in a strong evidence base and offers parents and educators a new language to talk about children, learning and technology. KinderTown is a company that are doing similar things specifically in the early childhood space. It makes sense to do this as the recent iLearnII Report from Joan Ganz Cooney Center identified that, in the education section of Apple's App Store, it is apps for the preschool set that dominate the marketplace. This means there are some amazing apps, but also a lot of poorly designed and thought out apps.

But, don't be confused by what KinderTown is about. Yes, they review apps and then provide their own app that allows parents to read reviews and find quality educational apps for young children. But, their approach to this work is what matters most.

So, let's break it down.

KinderTown has employed early childhood and educational professionals to actually lead their thinking and content development. They have employed engaged and innovative practitioners who did not need to know heaps about education, but knew a lot about how children learn and were coming straight out of classrooms. These are the people we want curating our children's digital content, but they also offer so much more.

The team at KinderTown offer a weekly email that has become a must read for parents of young children. The format is simple. They profile one app that they believe meets their high standards as supporting and benefiting the learning and development of young children. They then offer three short activites and pieces of advice about how parents can take the learning beyond the screen and engage in their children's learning that is in part taking place through the app. This is the work that early childhood professionals have always done, but get little recognition for. At preschools and kindergartens they have engaged with parents, shared aspects of children's learning and encouraged parents to make playdough, or foster young Jimmy's love of numbers through counting games. KinderTown have taken this idea and placed it at the heart of what they do.

For KinderTown, learning takes place everywhere for young children, on touchscreens, computers, in the car, outside and at the dinner table. They are using the technology as a way to leverage a greater level of engagement and activity between parents and children. It is an approach that deserves to be successful.

Of course, there is also their app, which is where you find their reviews of apps. But, not every app gets through. Of over 1000 reviews of early childhood apps, only 289 have been approved to the KinderTown standard. There are 131 developers responsible for those 289 apps. To get into one of KinderTown's 55 different early childhood learning concept areas, you need to be of a quality that early childhood professionals expect.

The project is evolving too. The latest iteration of the app tool makes it possible for parents to easily share their favorite educational kids apps with other parents. KinderTown lets parents track what apps they own and what apps they like so when a friend asks, "What are some good apps for kids?" they can just send them a link instead of having to pull out their iPhone or iPad and manually type a list into an email.

The likes of KinderTown and other similar companies like YogiPlay are doing an excellent job in helping to raise the expectations of parents about what a quality app looks like, what a quality app costs and why paying a bit for an app is better than just downloading free ones.

It is also important for developers who want to play in the education space to begin to see what constitutes a quality app for learning and development and to be guided more by the advice and perspective of people who have a deep level of knowledge about early childhood development.

This space is not all about metrics and data. It is not about literacy and numeracy and if a child can read. It is partly about that. It is also about play-based learning, multiple intelligences and fostering confidence, resilience and helping understand what 21st century skills look like in a four year old. It is pleasing to see the space evolve and projects like KinderTown helping take us a few more steps forward.