iPad-based Play and Learn Groups Help Low-income Families Prepare Young Kids

March 23rd, 2012
Miriam Flores and her son Oswaldo, 4, explore the iPad at our Larkins ELC

Lupita, 5, had never seen an iPad before. Her family cannot afford one at home. But as she touched the screen with her small fingers, and the learning activities came to life, she became animated with excitement, laughter and song.

“This is so new for Lupita and she is learning so quickly,” said her mother Martha Vega, amazed as she watched her daughter grasp this state-of-the-art technology almost intuitively.

The Vegas are one of 19 families with young children participating in a new pilot program at our Larkins Early Learning Communities (ELC) hub. The user-friendly program has a complicated name: Ready to Learn’s Expanded Learning through Transmedia Content. It is a collaboration between the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS Kids, and 11 public television stations in the country.

The initiative is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and is designed for children ages 2-8, particularly those from low-income families. It connects them with technologies that they might otherwise not experience at a young age. The learning activities feature characters from PBS kids and are delivered through digital applications, online and offline games, and video.

Detroit Public TV (DPTV) is one of the public television stations contracted as a demonstration site for the program. DPTV is working with six community partners that help prepare children to be “ready to learn,” including Southwest Solutions. Each partner agency has seven iPads and runs hands-on learning groups.

“The goal is for the parent and child to explore and learn together,” said Annemarie Harris, program manager of the project in Detroit. “We will be evaluating if this interactive technology improves the math and literacy development of young children, and also if the settings where the groups take place make a difference.”

Although the program at the Larkins ELC began in February, early results are already promising.

“The impact was especially significant in terms of parent-child interaction,” said Jessica Rodriguez, our ELC coordinator, and who facilitates the iPad-based Play and Learn group for English-speaking families.  “Parents and children sit very close together, make observations, and talk through challenges.”

“We’ve also seen improvements in fine motor, language and social skills among the children,” said Rosa Orr, who facilitates the Spanish-speaking group.

Like many of the participating parents, Ana Valenzuela was a little intimidated by the iPad at first, even as her four-year-old daughter Evelyn explored the tablet and its features with enthusiastic curiosity. Ana is now more comfortable with the technology and is learning how to use it from her daughter, while at the same time helping her daughter with the learning activities.

“Evelyn is learning so much about colors, shapes, words and music,” Ana said. “I wish we had an iPad at home!”

In addition to our Larkins ELC, the other community partners in the DPTV pilot program are: Wayne Metro Community Action Agency, Starfish Family Services, Detroit Leadership Academy, Development Centers Inc., and Wayne State University College of Education (its two early childhood centers).

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