Who’s Curating Digital Content for Kids?


2.22.12 | “‘Quality’ and ‘educational’ are not the same thing.”


Photo by Buzz Bishop.

Those words of wisdom come from the “Statement on the Development of a Framework for Quality Digital Media for Young Children” by the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College. The Center has been holding a series of roundtable discussions with leading developmental researchers and media creators as part of an initiative to create a framework on how to identify quality media tools across a range of platforms. 

Daniel Donahoo revisits the statement in a post at Wired, noting: “We see terms like ‘educational or ‘learning’ and we automatically assume that the tool or app we are considering must be of a greater value than an app that is ‘just a game.’ This is an incorrect assumption.”

The statement from the Rogers Center further explains the conundrum:

Media with educational intent are not necessarily high in production or content quality, and media of high production quality can be intended purely to entertain. Digital media can fulfill different developmental and learning needs for young children at different times, and even media content intended for entertainment has an educational impact.

Working in partnership with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) the Rogers Center has been working to update NAEYC’s position statement, last released in 1996, on best practices for technology, media and early childhood. The new version aims to consider the broad range of media young children have access to today, beyond just television. A final version is expected in the coming months.

This work is more important than ever before. The number of apps for toddlers and preschoolers grew by 23 percent in the last two years, according to a new report by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. And young children are using them. Common Sense Media found that half of all kids now have access to mobile devices at home

Couple those numbers with the latest news from the Federal Trade Commission calling the privacy disclosures on kids mobile apps “disappointing,” and it becomes even more clear why it’s crucial for all adults – parents, teachers, caregivers, mentors—- to pay attention to the apps and digital tools children are using. Oversight is needed to ensure safety and, most importantly, to ensure children are taking part in learning opportunities offered by new media.

This means taking into account a child’s developmental stage and interest level, as Rita Catalano, executive director at the Fred Rogers Center said in this recent podcast. And as Donahoo explains at Wired, it also requires focusing on the product’s design and asking: “How well does the user interface and the digital space meet the needs and capacity of children and students, given the intended age and development of the tool?”

Donahoo points out that there is no effective regulation about what makes an app or digital content educational. “Anyone can put that label on an app and it does not mean it is well designed to support learning,” he writes, “just that the people involved in the creation of the app believe it is.”

He presents a short list of organizations currently working to help parents and educators sort through digital content and claims about educational value. Some of the groups on the list, including the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, Common Sense Media and the Fred Rogers Center, are frequently covered on Spotlight. But there are a few new players, like Kindertown, which advertises itself as “an educational app store for busy parents,” and the Federal Learning Registry. We’ll be keeping an eye on all of them.

I’m looking forward to attending the Rogers Center’s Fred Forward Conference on quality in children’s digital media this spring. We’re also following the NAEYC statement on technology use and will share the final version with readers when it is released. 

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