Wooing Toddlers, From Naps to Apps

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Everybody loves bright shiny things, especially children. And now the burgeoning world of the iPhone, BlackBerry and their world of mobile apps, is giving new meaning to the concept.

Any parent knows that to take the kids out means a diaper bag full of distractions – formerly known as crayons, storybooks, games and toys. Now all that is rolled into one – mom or dad’s smartphone. Don’t believe us? Watch Luke Wilson entertain a disgruntled child above for AT&T.

The pattern of parents relying on electronic babysitters is not new, of course. Television programs, ostensibly geared towards learning date back as far as “Miss Frances’ Ding Dong School,” and perhaps reached an apex with Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Attracted by the bright colors and touch screens, will smartphones with bright shiny apps for kids be this generation’s Walkman?[more]

Once upon a time Sesame Street, which premiered in 1969 to become the longest running children’s TV program in history, pioneered modern standards for educational television…until now.

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center, an advocate of digital media as a learning tool for children, reports that almost 50% of the top 100-selling iTunes apps are geared for elementary or preschool children. Labeled by the Center as the “pass-back” effect, a parent literally passes their phone back to their kids to alleviate boredom, stimulate learning, or buy time in a restaurant or store.

The fact that almost all children in America have access to mobile devices has not gone unnoticed by app developers. A Sesame Workshop study in 2007 reported that 93 percent of 6 to 9-year-olds had access to a cell phone in the home and more than 30 percent owned their own phone.

Carly Shuler is a fellow at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, which is part of the Sesame Workshop. She told

CNN.com, “A child is not as afraid that they’re going to break something or do something wrong [as adults are]. They’re more likely to pick [the phone] up and just play with it, which is the best way to learn.”

Popular apps for young children include Toddler Teasers, Disney Cover Styler, Red Carpet Dress Up, and Shrek Cart. More and more are being created as the bonanza of apps for kids is being realized.

In the words of Joan Ganz Cooney, “Technology is everywhere children turn. However, finding the positive potential of new media to accelerate children’s learning is not yet part of our national conversation. If we can harness media as a powerful teaching tool, we can help children grow-up as literate, responsible global citizens. Now is the time to turn the new media that children have a natural attraction to into learning tools that will build their knowledge and broaden their perspectives.”

Let’s hope the developers and manufacturers are listening. And sweet pea…please give mom her phone back now.

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