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Baby Learning Apps: What You Really Need to Know

So what baby learning apps does your baby like?

Say what?? I glance at my 4-month-old son and back at the lady whose question took the wind from my sails. And so she repeats the question. My mouth ajar, I look around perplexed. Ummm… Yes, this is a question that a baby health nurse recently asked me. She was unaware of what I do for work. I was so shocked that I almost spat out my coffee. Ummm…my four-month old isn’t using baby apps…not just yet anyway.


There is a preponderance of techno-products marketed towards parents with babies. Many of these gadgets are labeled as ‘educational’. And so parents feel compelled to buy these gadgets and programs for their babies. What parent doesn’t want to give their child a head start? The baby media market is BIG business.   We have the Apptivity Case which offers a dribble- and vomit-proof case for young children. And then there are the corresponding baby learning apps, some of which claim to teach letters and numbers.


We have early reading systems that (falsely) claim that they can teach babies to read.   We also have Baby Einstein DVDs whose marketing materials claimed that the DVDs enhanced baby brain development (until they were required to remove the advertising and offer consumers a refund because the marketing claims were not based on any research).


This recent conversation with my son’s baby health nurse really shocked me. As a children’s technology researcher and a mum, I have two problems with baby learning apps. In fact, I have issues with baby media in general. Let me explain my objections.


1. As a Researcher: The baby media market is not actually grounded in any research. In fact we have research to the contrary.

[tweetability]Babies need laps not apps. [/tweetability]

 They need real ‘face-time’ with adults.


A study reported in the Journal of Educational Psychology* in 2014 confirmed that babies do not learn to read from baby media like DVDs and videos. The study involved 117 babies aged from 9 to 18 months, over a 7-month period. Using eye-tracking technology and standardised measures, it found that there were no observable differences in children’s emerging reading skills between the children who used baby media and the control group who did not use any media.

What is interesting to note, was that the only discernable difference between the babies who used baby media and the babies who did not in the above study, was their parents’ perceptions. The parents whose children used baby media believed that their babies were learning new words, despite evidence to the contrary. Now I think this speaks volumes.

Parents want to feel assured that they are doing a good job. So if they believe that their baby is having a jump-start on learning, then they must be doing a good job. Right? It gives them something to quantify.


Now don’t panic. Just because you used an early reading DVD with your baby, or allowed them to watch Baby Einstein DVDs, you have not ‘harmed’ them. That’s not what I am saying. What I am saying, is that using these media is not necessarily going to have the learning games that you may have been led to believe. If you’re a new parent don’t feel compelled to buy these gadgets and programs for your baby. They are making false promises. We now have the science to prove it.

baby using an iPad

2. As a Mum: Why do we want babies formally learning letters and numbers? I am not saying that babies cannot learn. We know from neuroscience that the early years are a time of rapid brain development. Why are we in a rush to introduce formal learning? There’s plenty of time for that.


I’m more interested in watching my four-month old giggle at my silly faces and laughing as I sing him songs. I want him to dribble, roll around on the floor and laugh at nonsensical things. Teaching him letters and numbers is not on my agenda just yet. There’s time for formal learning later on.


Too often there is a push to introduce formal academic learning at a young age. The curriculum push-down seems to occur at a younger and younger age now. This has resulted in the ‘hurried child’ phenomenon.


So to answer my baby health nurses’ question, YES my baby does have a favourite baby learning app- it is me, his Mum, (for now anyway). He swipes, presses, taps and flicks her. She responds. Her screen is a little scratched. Her battery needs a re-charge. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.


Tell me in the comments below do you agree or disagree? Do babies (younger than 12 months) learn from apps and other baby media?


*Neuman, S. B.,Kaefer, T., Pinkham, A. & Strouse, G. (2014) Can Babies Learn to Read? A Randomized Trial of Baby Media. Journal of Educational Psychology, 2014; DOI:

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