Blogger Children and Technology Committee

Educational Apps, Toys, and Brain Development In Children

When it comes to our children, of course, we want what’s best for them. We pick and choose toys and apps which are not only fun but that are deemed “educational.” But what a parent or educator may want to know is, “Is this toy or app giving the child the full benefit of the learning outcomes that it should?” “How does a parent know what those outcomes should be? There’s been much research on children and brain development, as well as a proliferation of educational apps created in the past few years. “Of the 2.2 million apps in the App Store, 176,000, 8.5 percent are loosely deemed as “educational.” Their growth is expected to increase by 10% through 2021. (Brain Training For Kids: Adding a Human Touch. Hassinger-Das, Brenna and Hirsch-Pasek, Kathy). In this article, Hassinger-Das, and Hirsch-Pasek examine the question of what the term “educational” means as it relates to what benefit the child is receiving with the use of the particular toy or app. In essence, the authors argue that the term is used more for marketing purposes and does not have any real regulated guidance that would offer substance to the true meaning of the word. Some toys or apps may offer exercises that don’t necessarily inspire learning. 

Hirsch-Pasek, Zosh, and colleagues have developed a set of five characteristics that can be used as a guide in the development of toys, apps, or programs that will help with stronger learning: Their assertion is that the best learning happens when (in summary) the process is 1) active, 2) engaging, 3) meaningful, 4) socially interactive, and 5), has a clear learning goals. For these principles, the phrase “Pedigrees for Learning ” has been coined, and through these principles, toys and apps can be rated. 

The “socially interactive” principle of the five is especially strongly emphasized by the authors as they reference Andrew N. Meltzoff and Patricia K. Kuhl of the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. An excerpt in their journal states that the brains of infants are literally formed in part by the interactions they have with adults. (Meltzoff and Kuhl, Exploring the Infant Social Brain: What’s Going On In There?. Zero to Three Journal, vol. 36 no.3). Others such as Dr. Mendolsohn, FAAD, say that “the best toys are those that support children and parents playing, pretending, and interacting together….” (Mendolsohn. Ignore the Flashing Screens: The Best Toys Go Back To The Basics). Other toys such as construction blocks are helpful “brain training” toys (coined by marketers) that are said to encourage STEM play and to build narrative skills. Games such as Scrabble Junior and Boggle Junior  (both digital and non) improve fluid reasoning and processing speed, are socially interactive, and engaging. (Hirsch-Pasek, Zosh,

A good “go-to” source created for parents and educators, called Common Sense Media, rates apps for children of all ages which meet the characteristics discussed above. Their lists of apps that encourage parent and child interactions include apps such as “OK Play-Learning Activities” for children ages 2+ and, “Small Wonders”(for families) 3+, which has playful co-use prompts and encourages conversations.  There are also a myriad of recommendations for best streaming movies, websites, books, music, games, and even character development. Overall, this media source as well as the articles named in this writing, are great starting places that provide the tools necessary for parents and educators to be well informed, and to answer many of the questions of giving children qualitative educational experiences.


Hassinger-Das, Brenna  and Hirsch-Pasek, Kathy. 2019.Cerebrum. Brain Training For Kids: Adding The Human Touch. 

Mendelsohn. 2018. Ignore the Flashing Screens: The Best Toys Go Back To The Basics. 

Common Sense Media. 2018. Apps That Can Bring Families Together

Meltzoff and Kuhl.2016. Zero To Three Journal. Exploring the Infant Social Brain: What’s Going On In There?, vol. 36 no.3

By Carla y. Davis, MLIS Librarian, 

Multnomah County Library , Portland Oregon

Carla Davis is a member of the ALSC Children and Technology Committee. She is a Youth Librarian at the Multnomah County Libraryis Portland Oregon who enjoys being on various teams such as the BCLA (Black Cultural Library Advocates) team. It exists  to improve services and increase the African/ African American presence in the library.  Sharing storytimes with families is a rewarding part of her job . Personally, she is a singer who likes to take long walks and drives. 

This writing addresses the following competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group; II. Reference and User Services; and  III. Programming Skills.

One comment

  1. Jonell Kingham

    Your posts and blogs at are always full of great information and how-tos. Thanks for sharing. I enjoy reading your posts and blogs at so much.

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