A Wondering on Children’s Apps and Culture

The past few weeks, I have taken some time to deeply think about culture and apps in early childhood, especially with my colleague Kate Highfield, Ph.D. from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.  My conversations with Kate along with my few days in the country surrounded by nature have provided quality time for me to play with apps and reflect on how these tools do or do not support various cultures.  These two recent events have helped me think even more about this issue in the field and curious about solutions others are using to address this issue.

Image courtesy of K.W. Barrett https://flic.kr/p/bcGqcH
Image courtesy of K.W. Barrett

Acknowledging the lack of representation in children’s apps was one of the reasons I started this blog.  Instead of accommodating to our current global and heterogeneous societies, a majority of apps are fit for dominant cultures, which makes them limiting and unsupportive of all children’s growth and development.  Just as having a library that only represents one sub-culture of the world can be negative for children’s development of self and cultural awareness of others, so too there is potential for apps to have that same negative impact.  This understanding makes me wonder about the industry’s concern of this issue and the future of the industry.

With knowing this current status in the field, how are early childhood professionals and parents addressing this issue?   I’ll share with you some of my approaches and I would like to hear your strategies with tackling this issue.  My number one recommendation is to use apps in which children can create their content.  Allowing children to present their world and share their voice are empowering experiences for them.  I use open-ended apps so that  children of diverse cultures and languages can construct, create, problem solve, and communicate.  It also provides another way to convey that who they are and what they do matters to me and important others.

In another approach I take is speaking with app developers.  I have included this recommendation in my chapter on “Connected Educators” in Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years: Tools for Teaching and Learning.  Communicating with app developers can be challenging since often times early childhood professionals and parents don’t use the same language as app developers.  However, conferences like Dust or Magic’s App Camp have done a great job of creating an effective, intellectual, and safe environment where media creators and early childhood professionals can come together and discuss best practice for young children.  Emailing is also another option if we can’t attend an event like App Camp.

As I continue playing with apps and cruising through the various stores, I remain concerned and mindful about the ways these tools can empower and disempower young children.  I like how apps can expose children to new content, provide a safe environment for taking risks, create opportunities to support relationships, and enhance cognitive development, but I’m aware that there may be cultural biases present that are conscious or unconscious to the designer.  It’s vital that we continue to be critical users, consumers, and creators of tools so we can help children navigate through this process as they develop.

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