Are your kids falling through the app gap?
24 Nov 2017
Mel Hearse

Mel Hearse

Are your kids falling through the app gap?

401 views 3 min to read

With the arguments for and against screen time as hot as ever, researchers are concerned it's creating a very real gap in school readiness.

My bestie and I fall on two different sides of the kids and tech time fence. She allows very little time, while I would have to admit mine spend a little too much time engrossed in their computers – sometimes games, but also learning skills such as coding. 

Her concerns revolve around the development of social skills, problem solving skills and health issues such as neck and back pain later in life. For me, in a household largely funded by two computer centric careers, I see it as the way of their future, and I want them to view technology as an extension of their hand.

What we do share, however, is the desire to do the very best for our kids – something that can be hard to navigate with the sheer volume of information out there, and the massive advances in technology since our own childhoods. 

“Some parents have run with the idea portrayed in advertising about the educational value of apps,” says Dr Donell Holloway of Edith Cowan University, who has just published a research paper on the topic.

“Our research found the parents who were allowing their children to use apps tried to give them not just entertainment but some educational value.”

On the flipside, she says other parents restrict time, or don’t allow it at all, because they feel guilty about allowing their young children to use apps, citing the relationship between screen time, childhood obesity or lack of children’s physical and imaginative play.

What is the 'app gap'?

The emerging phenomenon, dubbed the ‘app gap’ refers to the concept where very young children from some families are accessing quality educational apps at greater rates than others, says Dr Holloway.

She says ‘app-affluent’ children could be starting their school career better prepared in literacy, numeracy and technology skills than their 'app-poor' classmates. Using them also provides a valuable source of scaffolding- a teaching technique that further boosts learning. 

What is scaffolding?

A term first coined in the 60's, scaffolding refers to the provision of a temporary framework that provides support as your child learns a new concept. This framework is then slowly removed to encourage students to take charge of their own learning.

Dr Holloway says interactive/learning apps help them along the way with:
  • Affective scaffolding (encouragement)
  • Cognitive scaffolding (helping them work out problems/questions presented to them but don’t give them the answers straight away)
  • Technical scaffolding (help them navigate their way through the game by swiping and pressing in the correct places and manner)

Finding the sweet spot

The research suggests we should meet somewhere in the middle.

Dr Holloway suggests smaller children should use interactive apps in short sharp sessions (up to 15 mins) at a time with a carer or sibling present.  Parents and carers should also make sure that the apps are interactive and age appropriate without rapid image changes and fast-moving illustrations,” she says.

And as they get older, you can use other types of screen time to provide scaffolding at home. 

“I recommend that when children are watching passive screens - television, videos, YouTube - parents and carers make the experience language-rich and interactive,” she says.

For example, ask questions and talk about what you are watching together, which helps them understand the content better and expands their learning. 

What apps are your kids using? Tell us in the comments section below