Can Amazon’s new app help kids develop a lifelong love of reading? Seems like it couldn’t hurt, especially since we’re talking about an educational app. But the consensus among experts is that increased screen time alone is harmful for children after a certain point. The question is how to make sure kids don’t spend so much time in the app that the educational benefits become irrelevant.
The new app is called Amazon Rapids. Aimed at seven to 12-year-olds, the stories unfold with a series of chat bubbles—two chickens discussing whether they should cross the road or an alien accidentally sending a note to an earthling kid about his plans to invade the planet. For $2.99 a month, the app offers “hundreds” of these stories, and it will add “dozens” more each month.
“We already know that kids love to play and message with friends and family using mobile devices,” says Michael Robinson, director of consumer products for Amazon Education. “So we wanted to see what authors and illustrators could create with an app that made it easy to tell stories this way.”
Kids can control the pace of each story by tapping and swiping on the mobile device, and they can look up definitions and pronunciations of difficult words as well as save them to a glossary. If they prefer, they can ask the app to read the story out loud, via the mobile device’s built-in speech-to-text tool.
Jenny Radesky, a developmental behavioral pediatrician at the University of Michigan, questions whether the app is any better than any other reading tool. Still, she says, it can’t hurt. “I tell parents to find anything the child is motivated to engage with—comic books, Minecraft manuals, or sports or nature magazines for kids—as a way to get the child to practice reading.” Amazon Rapids throws a new option into that mix. Susan Neuman, an early literacy specialist at New York University, agrees. “There’s nothing wrong with playing with literacy,” she says. “It might attract those that are disinclined to read books to engage in conversational contexts.”
But beyond whether this new tech works better than existing reading tools, a more interesting question might be how the increased screen time affects children. Fabienne Doucet, an associate professor of early childhood education at NYU, warns that parents shouldn’t let their kids get too immersed in an app like this—that no passive digital app should take too much time away from activities in the real world. Yes, just last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics lifted its “no screens under the age of two” recommendation, saying that such a stringent rule is outdated after being in place for close to 20 years. Yet so much about the downside of more screen time is still unknown. A few small studies show that kids can learn new words from educational media, only if parents are watching alongside them. Another indicates that kids actually have poorer language skills compared to others when they watch educational material by themselves. (The act of reading alone is an obvious exception to this, since it requires children to be actively engaged with the text.)
As Neuman points out: “Screens are additive, not substitutes of human relationships.” In other words, Rapids might help kids develop a love of reading—so long as there’s a healthy amount of real engagement involved in the experience. But the potential for negative side effects still exists.
This article was syndicated from wired.com