It has helped me become a better teacher.

Melisa Perez is an incredible teacher. From her, we’ve learned so much. She and her classroom children (along with 52 other teachers and over 300 additional children) worked with us to create the Early Math with Gracie & Friends apps and curriculum.

In our work with teachers like Melisa, we ask them to stretch beyond what they typically teach, and we support teachers by providing rich professional development and resources like our Teacher’s Guide. We also listen closely to teachers like Melisa so we can design our materials (including our apps and teacher support materials) in a way that real teachers find useful in real classrooms.

Many of the teaching strategies and words that Melisa used in her classroom are now part of the delicate scaffolding and audio feedback in the Early Math with Gracie & Friends apps. Many of her approaches with our hands-on activities helped shape the curriculum. We have been blessed to have her as part of the team!

To our delight, Melisa shared with us a little insight into how the Gracie & Friends apps and curriculum have also helped her.

That’s true partnership. That’s public media at its heart. That’s what makes First 8 Studios at WGBH.

Play Testing Tip #2: Come with a protocol.

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Play Testing Tip #2: Come with a protocol.

Arriving at your testing session with a plan for what you want your testers to take for a spin and what questions you want to ask will help you make sure you get the most of each session. Start with what’s most important to you (is the child able to navigate the game? Does he or she learn what I want them to learn?) and then follow it up with some nice-to-knows (can the child beat the highest level? Does he or she like the background music?). That way, if your session is cut short, you’ll still walk away with the information you and your team need to move forward with your game.

And be sure to watch and listen for those unexpected moments of insight! If you notice something interesting happening, going off-script is A-OK!

An iPad in the Toy Box

What happens when a parent gives their child unlimited access to an iPad? We’ve heard time and time again that children’s screen time should be limited, that kids left to their own devices will sit for hours in front of the TV, computer, or mobile device, slowly turning their brain to mush. Wouldn’t they?

Journalist Hanna Rosin of The Atlantic wanted to find out for herself whether this fear is based in reality or not. In a conversation with NPR’s Weekend Edition host Rachel Martin, Rosin described how she placed an iPad in her four-year-old’s toy box and regarded it as though it was just another toy car or action figure. Her son was able to choose for himself which toy he wanted to play with, and for how long. What Rosin found was that after the first week and half, during which her son was indeed glued to the tablet, the iPad shockingly “fell out of rotation like any other game.” No parental-enforced limits on screen time, no mushy brains.

What do you think? Would you consider putting the iPad in the toy box and treating it like just another toy, or would you prefer to monitor your child’s screen time?

Thoughtful Design of Digital Toys

We recently came across some great “Tips for Choosing Digital Toys for Your Children” from the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media.  How does Next Generation Preschool Math measure up?  Find out below.

“Don’t insert technology when the real-world experience is better.”

The NGPM team believes in the power of play – both on-screen and off. NGPM integrates read-aloud books, board games, playground activities, and snack time mini-lessons to support children’s learning. Digital games supplement these activities and provide experiences that children can’t get so easily in their everyday world, like playing with clouds!

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“The best screen media—and by extension, toy-media hybrids—don’t use every amazing technology available, but choose only those that best suit their goals.”

There are so many ways to use technology to teach math to preschoolers. We started NGPM with devices that are intuitive to preschoolers: iPads. By prototyping over 50 games, we then identified specific game mechanics that would best allow children to explore the math topics and also engage various types of learners. Each game is designed for the unique learning goals.

“Well-designed tech toys—like high-quality screen media—leave room for the child’s active contribution.”

We couldn’t agree more.  NGPM offers traditional self-leveling games, with an objective, scaffolding, and advancement only upon mastering the learning goal presented; “sandbox” games, where children can freely explore; collaborative games for children to contribute to each other’s learning; and opportunities for children to contribute their own content, like creating their own characters with pictures they take of themselves.

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Can Preschools Save the World?

“It may be the solution… to everything wrong in the world.”

From this quote, you may guess that Alex Blumberg of Planet Money is talking about a whole host of things, preschool being pretty far down on your list. But in this episode of the podcast, Blumberg argues that preschool is critical not only for being ready to learn, but for being successful in one’s adult life. We couldn’t agree more – it’s why we do what we do!

Listen to the full podcast here.