Moms Columns & Blogs

PBS: There's an app for that

By Amanda LilyMcClatchy-Tribune

If you are taking your kids on a family road trip this summer, or simply looking for a worthwhile way to pass the time in the doctor’s office waiting room, PBS offers one answer in its iPhone apps for kids.

Recent research by PBS KIDS found that vocabulary improved as much as 31 percent in children ages 3 to 7 who played with PBS Kid’s “Martha Speaks” app. The study suggests that smart phones can be useful not just for parents, but for kids too.

“Mobile apps can be a great learning tool in the hands of children,” said Lesli Rotenberg, senior vice president of Children’s Media at PBS. “This research is important in helping to better understand and guide the development of new apps that improve the value of children’s screen time with significant educational outcomes.”

“Martha Speaks” is a part of The Great Word Quest, a free online literacy game that is also accessible on Flash-enabled smart phone browsers. Based on favorite PBS KIDS’ television shows, the program offers literacy games that are designed to help “strengthen critical reading skills, such as phonics, reading comprehension, and vocabulary,” according to a press release by PBS KIDS.

“PBS KIDS is dedicated to providing learning opportunities wherever kids are,” said Ben Grimley, senior director of Online Ventures at PBS. “These apps offer fun, yet educational, screen time.”

Through the Great Word Quest, kids can join one of three teams the Aquanauts, Trailblazers or Skyscrapers and advance through literacy-based scavenger hunts to earn words that they can then use to play games or create their own stories.

In particular, “Martha Speaks” is aimed at building the oral vocabulary of 4- to 7-year-olds. It is a great compliment to the other two games in The Great Word Quest – “WordGirl” and “The Electric Company,” which are more literacy-focused.

“The biggest difference between ‘traditional’ media and theN’Martha Speaks’ app is the interaction the app provides,” said Grimley. ”Also, books focus on written comprehension, whereas Martha Speaks Dog Party focuses on oral comprehension. “

These apps arrive just in time to combat what is known as the “summer learning gap,” or the general loss of academic skills during summer vacation, according to the press release.

The “Martha Speaks” app costs $2.99 in Apple’s app store and can be found on the PBS KIDS Mobile site