Children's screen time today has evolved from watching Elmo from "Sesame Street" sing the alphabet on TV to fighting Creepers in the popular videogame Minecraft on their iPads.
So it's understandable that a new national survey released Friday found that most parents believe that the amount of creative and quality educational media on mobile devices is lacking, especially when it comes to older children.
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center survey of more than 1,500 parents of children ages 2 to 10 found that more than half of parents believe that their children have learned "a lot" from educational media.
But parents' perceptions of the educational value of media—both television and mobile devices—drops significantly for older children, who naturally spend more time in front of the screen than the youngest children.
The study, "Learning at Home: Families' Educational Media Use in America," found that the proportion of screen time devoted to educational content is:
- 78 percent for 2- to 4-year-olds
- 39 percent among 5- to 7-year-olds
- 27 percent among 8- to 10-year-olds
"As we work to raise education standards and improve students' success, we must provide higher-quality media options—especially on mobile—that will help engage and educate today's older children," Michael H. Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, said in a press release Friday. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center is a New York City-based nonprofit research lab founded by the Sesame Workshop which produces "Sesame Street."
GfK conducted the study with a nationally representative group of 1,577 parents of children ages 2-10, including large over-samples of black (290) and Hispanic or Latino (682) parents.
More than a third of the parents surveyed said their children use educational media daily with 80 percent of children using it weekly. Most parents say educational media prompts their children to further explore learning, with 78 percent of those children engaging in imaginative play and 61 percent wanting to create projects based on something they've learned from their time on the screen.
While more parents surveyed say that their children have learned a lot about reading (37 percent) and math (28 percent) from educational media, only 19 percent say the same about science.
Despite the heavy barrage of mobile devices being marketed to children, it appears Big Bird has little to fear as television continues to be the most popular medium for learning among children. According to the study, parents say their children are spending an average of 42 minutes each day with educational TV compared to just five minutes with educational content on mobile devices and computers and only three minutes with educational video games.
So is it too late to pry our older children (ages 8-10) away from Minecraft and Super Mario in favor of games and apps that contain an element of learning?
Apparently not, since the power to tune in continues to remain in the hands of parents. The survey found that while most parents had access to e-platforms for books only a third used them with their children because they still preferred printed books. Children are spending five minutes reading on e-platforms compared to 29 minutes in print. (I concur. Call me old-fashioned, but my house is overrun with children's books even though Santa granted my sons' wish for an iPad mini this year.)
The study may serve as a wake-up call for parents like me who have found it increasingly convenient to park our kids in front of a mobile device. The dearth of high-quality, engaging educational media for our older children on mobile platforms might give parents pause about the amount of time we permit our children to be glued to the screen.
"Right now, mobile media are not living up to their potential as a source of learning for kids, at least according to parents' reports," said Vicky Rideout, the president of VJR Consulting and the study's author.
In a blog on the Joan Ganz Cooney Center site, Levine noted that Common Sense Media has an educational-rating system for parents and a new service aimed at educators called Graphite. He also wrote that Google Play for Education is a site that helps identify the "good stuff" in educational media. Education Week's Michele Molnar wrote a story about the expanding field of ed-tech product-review sites last year.
Meanwhile, Rideout said in a video blog that the study has the potential to encourage a surge in the development of educational media geared toward mobile platforms for children who have already mastered their ABCs.