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When Will Digital Apps Implement A Stricter Labeling Process?

When used properly, digital tools can help improve a young child’s ability to learn, move, communicate, and create, something that is music to a frazzled parent’s ears. Let’s face it: life gets busy, so the ability to quickly download an educational app to occupy a preschool-aged child can be a welcomed relief.

The only problem is, how does a parent quickly discern which apps to download? Sure, it seems simple to select one of the many options under the “educational” category, but how standardized are those labels?

Glossy graphics belie a confusing mess. Since developers choose where to put their wares, many of them select the “education” section with little evidence that their products are educational. Their products might be better labeled as entertainment, but because they include characters that sing the ABCs, they reside in that borderland yet to be defined. —

This may not seem like a big deal for apps that cost only a few dollars to download, but those dollars add up. If a parent goes through two or three apps before finding a truly educational option, that is money down the drain. Factor in multiple devices and multiple children and it becomes quite a waste. performed its own study to determine the ease of finding age-appropriate, educational apps, and discovered that the process is actually far from easy. The study involved the analysis of “nearly 200 apps targeted to children ages 0–8, with emphasis on early literacy and the top 50 most popular apps in the education sections of those stores.”

When labeled effectively, apps can provide learning engagement for young children, but the key is finding age-appropriate content. In this study, few apps were found to be labeled appropriately, wasting time and money of parents searching for quality options.

[Apps] were often vaguely described as being for “young children,” not recognizing there is a large difference between the needs of a 3-year-old and the needs of a 6-year-old

One key point brought up by Sarah Vaala and Anna Ly of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop was the lack of interaction potential between parents and children. While the idea of digital learning seems mutually exclusive to that of collaborative learning, Vaala and Ly argue that technology does, in fact, allow for dialogue and sharing.

These social interactions build foundational skills for being good readers and critical thinkers, and contrary to conventional wisdom, this kind of social interaction is, in fact, possible with digital technology—for instance, Skyping and reading a book with Grandma

Unfortunately, the current process of labeling apps is far from regulated, meaning parents are going to have to do their own legwork to find solutions for their children. The easiest way to do this is for parents to collaborate, reviewing the apps with ratings and descriptions to cite the appropriate age range and educational value of each one.

… it’s not only buyer beware, it’s “buyer, don’t expect miracles.” Apps can’t make up for the social interactions, content knowledge-building, and storytelling that parents and educators can and should be doing with children every day

Yes, it’s true that nothing can replace the value of parent-to-child interactions, but it would certainly be helpful to have easy, go-to options when the situation calls for it.

In the physical world, there are whole industries focused on the placement of products on the shop floor and regulations around packaging. It’s time for the equivalent digitally, with parents and educators first in mind


Freelance Writer at
Chrissie is a wife, mother of three children and two cats, a freelance writer, public relations professional, and Rodan+Fields Consultant. You can learn more about her business at or on Facebook (ChrissieWywrot) or Twitter (@Chrissie5213).
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