February 17th, 2010 | posted by: Lynette

Tools that build – not sever – connections

With a lineup of over 100,000 apps, Apple has an app for most needs among its iPhone-carrying customers – that is, the adults. As it turns out, app developers are creating more and more apps for children, which raises a number of interesting questions. Is even more screen time good for kids? What are apps offering to kids? How much learning and growth can be triggered by the use of iPhone apps? Is it all about video games in the end?

Playing video games

As an iPhone app developer, mom of three growing kids, and a member of MomsWithApps, I deal with this question every day, professionally and personally. In my mind, the child/iPhone combo often conjures images of images of kids playing video games for hours on end, and that’s often the case. At the same time, there are also some fantastic educational apps and benefits that come from mobile devices. So what might be some characteristics of apps for kids that make them worth downloading?

What limits do you set before you hand your iPhone over?

As a parent, I am looking for apps that start with the iPhone but encourage engagement with the world beyond the device, like sparking conversations with family and friends, exploring “real world” sites and phenomena through maps and geocaching. I applaud apps that truly require strategic and creative thinking, not just mindless repetition. The latest hot app is not necessarily good for kids just because they like it. In selecting apps, parents should look carefully for ones which are gateways back into the “real” world, not just a highway to the couch.

“Educational” means not just math facts, drills, and phonics, but also activities and content that encourage and develop social and communication skills: like PicPocket Books’ picture books, Tales2Go’s audio library or the conversation starters from the Family Matters App. By expanding horizons, these apps become tools for engagement rather than a drug for tuning out.

A pause in the play to check the storyline of Sleeping Beauty

As responsible parents, we must look closely not only at the content we allow our children to experience on the screen, but also how, when, how often, and where they are plugged in to mobile devices or other screens. One of the best ways to practice moderation and to set enforceable limits is to model the right example for your kids. Recognize that technology can be addictive – not only for kids but for adults too. If you don’t want your kids to zone out in front of the screen, then stop constantly checking your own devices. Set boundaries and limits that work for your family, and enforce the rules.

In our household, computers and mobile devices are kept on the main living level so parents can monitor online behavior in terms of content and time spent on-line. We have the kids tell us which games they are playing, what they like about them, and have them show us how they play as well – maybe even play with them, all to ensure that communication and engagement come with the virtual fun. We also make an effort to stay current with new communication platforms and technological developments.

Down the road, knowing how to navigate that world – and engaging in it creatively and actively –  will keep doors open longer for communicating with kids.

Thanks to MomsWithApps’ Lorraine Akemann and Jill Seman for collaborating and contributing to this post.

December 29th, 2009 | posted by: Lynette

Mobile devices vs. Personal Computers for educational programs

Just when we were used to educational programs on the PC, suddenly all the new educational programs for kids are going mobile. There are hundreds – no, thousands – of educational iPhone apps in the iTunes App Store. Are they any better or different from programs for the PC? Is the touch screen of an iPhone hard for kids to learn to use, in comparison to a keyboard and a mouse?

PicPocket Books always uses kids as testers for our new applications, and it is wonderful and amazing to see how intuitive the iPhone controls are even for children as young as 2 and 3 years old. Young kids are naturally curious and they don’t have the initial fear or hesitation towards a new technology device that some adults display.

The iTunes store offers a number of free apps, and free programs are available for PCs. Paid iPhone apps usually top out at $5, whereas you can easily pay close to $100 for an educational program for your PC (think Disney’s new digital library for $79, foreign language tutorials, etc.)

A strong appeal of the iPhone is that it is mobile, and perfect for entertaining kids when you are away from home and caught in an unexpected wait.

So yes, I think kids can use mobile devices like the iPhone for effective learning, and many of the available quality apps are perfect for taking advantage of times when you are caught in a wait. So pull out the iPhone to practice some math facts, foreign language vocabulary, or just to read a good picture book.

October 4th, 2009 | posted by: ela

Get a Head Start on Reading While on the Road!

bookbabyIs it unrealistic to expect your baby or toddler to sit still unoccupied?  Probably.  But is it unrealistic to expect your child to sit while you read to him or her?  Of course not!  In her article “Give Your Baby a Head Start on Reading” Francisca Ortega makes suggestions for giving your baby a head start in school by reading to him or her at a young age.  One of the most important suggestions that Ortega gives is to “take books and writing materials with you wherever you go”.  Sometimes, however, this simple task of bringing along a big bag of books can become excessive.  Most children’s books are hardcover, making them bulky and heavy; not to mention the amount of other travel supplies you have to bring for your child just to make a simple errand.

But don’t fret, parents!  The simple solution to the clutter and extra bags while you’re on the road is only a click away!  Downloading a PicPocket book from iTunes onto your iPhone can make your time spent away from home more enjoyable and just as educational for your child.  Just like a traditional book, PicPocket storybooks include vibrant illustrations and the original text of some of your favorite children’s books.  A benefit of PicPocket Books is the “read aloud” feature that you can activate to let your child listen to the story as it is being read to him or her.  Each word of the story is highlighted to correspond with the audio track.

The early childhood benefits of reading are tremendous!  As Ortega writes, exposing your child to books and reading starting at 6 months is a great way to prepare him or her for school.  PicPocket Books is just one way to make your life easier and your child’s future a little brighter.

September 23rd, 2009 | posted by: Lynette

Wordless Wednesday

September 18th, 2009 | posted by: Eva

What’s the future? Children’s Lit and the Digital Age

What’s next for children’s literature? We are zooming into the digital age. Technology keeps changing, and print media is quickly going digital. Is anybody out there nervous? Could we lose something with this change?

An article in Publishers Weekly addresses these questions and more: are publishers ready? What about piracy? How will rights be handled? Will libraries become obsolete?

The article summarizes a forum held by the Children’s Book Council on “The Current State of E: Publishing in the Digital Age.”  One panelist states, “E-books add a fantastic functionality to what a book is. Adding interactivity to that experience is also very interesting. And thinking about ways they can be fun [is important], because it’s for children.”

There’s a lot of potential! What do you think?

August 24th, 2009 | posted by: Eva

Ever want a portable iPhone stand?

Ever wished you had a portable stand for your iPhone or iTouch that fit in your pocket?


Enter the iBend.

July 22nd, 2009 | posted by: Eva

"Write A Review Wednesday:" My Friend Isabelle

“My Friend Isabelle” (written by Eliza Woloson, illustrated by Bryan Gough) is the story of two young friends. Charlie and Isabelle are the same age and share a love of drawing, dancing, playing at the park, and snacks! Like most friends, they are also different.

What I love about this story is its sweet and simple depiction of young friendship. Young children, before they learn social stereotypes and ideas, are often more accepting and embracing of difference. “My Friend Isabelle” depicts exactly that kind of relationship. Isabelle’s differences, due to Down Syndrome, are explained in an age-appropriate and gentle manner. Regardless of differences, Charlie and Isabelle have a lot in common and enjoy spending “every Friday” together.

This story is a perfect opportunity for discussion about tolerance, acceptance, and even diversity by showing that “differences are what makes the world so great.”

For more information, see Write-A-Review-Wednesday and visit Woodbine House, the mighty Amazon, and our iTunes App of the book!

July 22nd, 2009 | posted by: Eva

Seriously? "Dumbest" iPhone Apps

The iPhone has been around for two and 1/2 years now. The App store is younger – it opened in July, 2008, starting with 500 applications to download. Now, merely a year later, 65,000 applications are available. Sheez! That’s A LOT of applications to choose from! 

Many of them, I’m sure, are great. Some of them, I’m sure, are rather silly. These, haha, seem to be some of the silliest.

Enjoy! :-)

July 20th, 2009 | posted by: Lynette

new e-book reader from Barnes and Noble

Barnes and Noble is getting in the game. Their new e-book reader is an app for the iPhone. It is a free download which comes with two free books (classics by Jane Austin and James Fenimore Cooper).

Mel Martin, who reviewed the B&N e-book reader in his article that showed up in the Publishers Weekly Morning report, called it a “festival of frustration.” In order to see anything, even the free e-books, he had to go through the tedious process of setting up an account, complete with password and, well, to make a long story short, just too many steps. Martin wasn’t wowed by the selection (process or presentation) when he finally got on the site, and pricing was…suspicious.

My interest still is in e-picture books. If B&N offers any, I couldn’t figure out how to view them. For children’s picture books, PicPocket Books apps look like the best option – you can download individual titles with one click or tap just like you would a song – no extra application or account needed.

Martin’s review of the B&N app is worth reading in its entirety for his humorous account of his frustration. Here’s the link: Barnes and Noble jumps into the e-book pool.

June 22nd, 2009 | posted by: Lynette

Smartphones are here to stay

I knew they were hot, but even still I was surprised to read today that that Apple sold more than 1 million new iPhone 3G S devices in three days.

It certainly does look, as Steve Jobs asserted in a recent press release, like “customers are voting and the iPhone is winning. With over 50,000 applications available from Apple’s revolutionary App Store, iPhone momentum is stronger than ever.”

T-Mobile will be releasing its second phone to run on the Google’s Android system (July 8, $199). It is called the myTouch.

Sprint and Verizon also plan to offer Android phones, but we won’t see that until later this year.