Three Children’s Apps Fred Rogers Might Appreciate

Back in 1968, Fred Rogers started a challenging career in television to “make goodness attractive.” That was back when televisions were the size of washing machines, and you could count the number of children’s television programs on one hand.

Although the children’s media landscape has changed dramatically, Fred Rogers’ values have not.

In my study of children’s apps, I’ve found that Fred’s attributes for quality in children’s media transfer well to touch screens.

Based on the principles upon which he designed his Neighborhood, I believe he’d like apps that are:

Honest. Children are curious about the world around them, which is why Fred filled his shows with authenticity. He addressed tough questions like divorce and death, and took us on visits to the crayon factory to see how they were made. Well-designed apps can give children the answers they crave without commercial clutter.

Empowering. Fred wanted children to experience feelings of control. He would always let the child speak first, and he’d listen to them maintaining uncanny eye contact. Likewise, a good app never traps a child inside a noisy game, and always puts the child in the driver’s seat during any sequence of events. These are experiences that let the child control the screen, not the other way around.

Child Paced. The timing of media meant a lot to Fred Rogers. When other children’s television programs sped up, he slowed down—once even filming a turtle walking across the floor. He’d likely enjoy apps that don’t push fast-paced music and flashy graphics.

Supportive of Human Interactions. Some games are like insular bubbles while others create rich social opportunities between people. The three apps I’ve identified below are designed to be shared, meaning they work with two or more children and a parent—all at once.

Well-Crafted. Fred once said “in children’s media good enough isn’t good enough.” Behind every episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a lot of old fashioned hard work and well-composed music. Likewise, the apps below contain ingredients like attention to detail, pleasing sounds, intentional narration, and original illustrations.

There are quite a few apps that meet these standards, but here are three that stand out.

Sago Mini Farm

Recommended for a child’s very first screen experience, this is a finger-driven, explore-and-tap app full of farm animals, tractors, and other items related to farms. Children freely drag, stack, and move things around. I like the multi-touch features. Fred Rogers liked materials that could foster quality interactions between adults and children—and Mini Farm works like a charm for this purpose. The learning is light and informal, and there’s no print or spoken language barriers. The teeter-totter works like a balance, quietly introducing equivalency, and there’s a tractor that you can load with fruit and drive around. This app works well without WiFi, making this a viable road trip experience.

DETAILS: Sago Mini, www.sagomini.com, ($2.99)
For ages 2-5

iPad: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sago-mini-farm/id1276335122?ls=1&mt=8

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.sagosago.Farm.googleplay

Video Link: https://youtu.be/b7dxDKbuOpU

Read the CTREX Review: http://reviews.childrenstech.com/ctr/fullreview.php?id=19751

The Human Body

How does your heart work? What’s the view like inside your eyeball? Fred would’ve liked this app because he appreciated authentic content. You start with a working model of the human body (boy, girl, man or woman), with each key part animated, complete with sound. The graphics are clear, yet free of gore or embarrassment. The clever designers achieved their objective of scientific accuracy by letting you play with powerful, working models of the human eye and ear that incorporate the features of the camera and microphone. In the case of the eye, the on-screen eye “sees” what your iPad’s camera sees. Your photo and music libraries are accessed to demonstrate brain function, and device orientation shows the effect of gravity on the body. Note that this app is part of a series from Tinybop. If you like this one, get the others, which let your child explore the solar system, earth science, skyscrapers, and mammals.

DETAILS: Tinybop, Inc., www.tinybop.com, ($2.99)

For ages 4 and up

iPad, iPhone: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-human-body-by-tinybop/id682046579?mt=8)

Read the CTREX Review: http://reviews.childrenstech.com/ctr/fullreview.php?id=17168

Crazy Gears

This problem solving physics game lets children freely manipulate gears, chains, rods, pulleys and more to pull themselves to the next level. There are 61 puzzles that start easy and progressively become harder. There’s plenty of opportunities for something Fred wanted for all children—the chance to freely experiment and make mistakes (also known as debugging) to see how different mechanisms affect one another when constructing a machine. For example, you find that adding a third gear will change the direction of rotation, and larger gears have less force. The parts snap together easily and there are often multiple ways to solve a problem, making this a good app to share with your child.

DETAILS

Edoki Academy, www.edokiacademy.com, ($1.99)

For ages 5-8

iPad: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/crazy-gears/id967327312?l=fr&ls=1&mt=8

Read the CTREX Review: http://reviews.childrenstech.com/ctr/fullreview.php?id=18231

Video Link: https://youtu.be/UfU_5ZHgqbA

 

Warren Buckleitner, Ph.D., is a Fred Rogers Center Senior Fellow. He is Editor of the Children’s Technology Review and Assistant Professor at The College of New Jersey.
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2Comments

  • Doris / 31 October 2018 3:59

    Thank you, for humanizing children through machines and keeping Mr. Rogers in our minds and heart. My three sons grew up with the benefit of a neighbor, and friend, Mr. Rogers.

    Doris Glanden
    Hyattsville, MD, USA

  • Peggy / 4 November 2018 12:35

    Thank you for this worthwhile information.

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