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Are Learning Apps Helpful for Children Under 6 Years of Age? :

December 30, 2019

The number of apps available to young children to allegedly help them learn seems too numerous to count.

The number of apps available to young children to allegedly help them learn seems too numerous to count. How effective are these apps in advancing early learning in children less than 6 years of age? To answer that question, Griffith et al (10.1542/peds.2019-1579) conducted a systematic review using four databases and found 35 studies that met criteria and were either randomized or non-randomized controlled studies. The good news is that some interactive apps were found to benefit academic learning, especially in math and language acquisition. The results were less promising for social and communication skills in children with autism. While the studies were too heterogeneous to be able to conduct a meta-analysis, they do find some interactive apps are helpful for academic development.

What can we conclude from the mixed bag of results finding academic benefits to some apps but less benefit in apps designed to strengthen social-emotional skills? We asked Dr. Michael Rich from Boston Children’s to weigh in with an accompanying commentary (10.1542/peds.2019-3503). He reviews the history of how learning apps developed, beginning with Sesame Street, a program that behaved like an app in trying to interact with and teach young viewers before apps were invented. Dr. Rich then points out how this review by Griffith et al. cannot conclude with certainty that interactive learning used by some apps is better than simple receptive learning used by other apps. Dr. Rich suggests the reasoning some apps were not associated with positive findings were because they overstimulate young children. Dr. Rich reminds us that no matter how good an app may be, it is likely not as good as what a child can learn from interacting with parents and siblings, or enjoying free play, creativity, or simply playing outside with friends. Reading this review and commentary show us that when it comes to comparing one app to another, we are just not comparing app-les to app-les. Read this review and commentary and see if you agree.

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