Can apps make kids smarter?

A two-week study gave 90 children an iPod Touch loaded loaded with the PBS Kids Martha Speaks app and measured an increase in vocabulary acquisition by as much as 31 percent.

Screenshot of Martha Speaks app by PBS.
Like the show with the same name, the Martha Speaks app for iPhone and iPod Touch emphasizes improving vocabulary. PBS Kids

A new study finds that educational iPhone apps can increase a child's vocabulary acquisition by as much as 31 percent within two weeks. The study is part of a larger look at the relationship between technology and education, administered by PBS and funded by a grant from the Department of Education.

To glimpse the potential of mobile apps as a new educational medium, the study first tested the vocabulary level of a group 90 Title 1 school children, ages 3 to 7. Then, the children were each given two weeks with an iPod Touch loaded with the Martha Speaks app created by PBS Kids. The study monitored how the children used the iPod, how long they used it for, during what hours, and in what context. A call-in voice mailbox was also established so that parents could relate any anecdotes or observations about their child's time with the device.

On average, the study found that kids played with the iPod Touch for a total of 5 hours across the two weeks, with half that time spent playing the Martha Speaks app. It's important to note that the study didn't require kids to play with the device or the app--all play was self initiated.

At the end of the two week trial, the children were given another vocabulary test, which revealed an increase in vocabulary acquisition by as much as 31 percent.

What does it all mean? Well, it's at least some real evidence that iPhone and iPod games may not be rotting your kids' brains (provided the apps are educational). In fact, portable, app-based gadgets, such as the iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, may have a real place in educating our children.

A separate study conducted by Nielsen has shown that smartphone usage is 12 percent higher in households with children than other households--which is possibility attributed to use by children. Maybe it's time that parents come to terms with the reality that our phones and iPads moonlight as entertainment for our kids, and try to make the most of it. With the right apps and the proper restrictions, a little time with Mom's and Dad's gadgets may just do them some good.


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