Even nuclear physicists will have to work in teams!

If you’re looking for an app to engage your young child, there is no shortage of offerings. Apps aimed at entertaining children are some of the most popular, from “educational” games to playtime with their favourite TV character.

But despite this crowded marketplace, the new app Big Baby can boast a number of impressive firsts.

Big Baby may be the only app out there that does not “talk down” to children.

“Cute” voices, over-bright colours and talking animals are nowhere to be seen. The four children presented in the app are animated, but in a realistic and respectful way.

This may seem like a minor issue, but it’s important to always strive for authenticity and clarity with young children. Their capacity for imagination, creativity and humour are strengthened and promoted when given a space to learn that is not cluttered with too much noise, colour or distraction.

Authentic experiences are also more likely to inspire innovation and curiosity – particularly in an app like Big Baby. Children are familiar with babies, and respond well to little touches like how the hands and feet move.

My own two-year-old Annabel particularly loves the way the babies giggle and wriggle when tickled, just like she does!

Big Baby can also claim to be in a very small group of digital games for children that are not about meeting an outcome, or finishing a specific action.

We’re all familiar with the common types of apps out there for children. They’re often all the same, but with a different character or theme. It’s usually a series of games with a “right” way and a “wrong” way to do it. For instance, assembling a puzzle or matching two cards. We might call these “closed” games.

Big Baby falls into another category: “open” games. There are a number of actions possible within the app, but they are not structured in terms of “right” or “wrong”. A myriad variety of routines are available to try.

Children who are encouraged to experiment and be creative with resources and experiences are far more likely to develop positive attitudes to learning, which will be reflected in greater educational achievement.

Annabel takes particular delight in constructing specific routines for the children in the app – food, then nappy, then song, then bed. But she takes even greater joy in “being silly” and deliberately messing up the routine! This form of creative play is creating the foundations for innovative and lateral thinking, which the “closed” category games cannot do.

It is impossible to underestimate the importance of giving children choices about their own learning.

Finally, Big Baby is, to my knowledge, the only app for children that is focused on developing empathy.

The ability to empathise with others is often not high on our “readiness for school” criteria. As parents, we are often far more focused on whether they can count to 20, or can write their own name. The majority of apps for children are targeted at these outcomes. We often worry that our children need to “get ahead’ before school, and be able to meet these criteria.

But the world of education and learning, just the same as in the wider world, is a social world. Our ability to communicate with and understand others is as vital as being able to count to 20 – arguably more so, as the application of even the most advanced technical learning is grounded in human interactions.

Even nuclear physicists will have to work in teams!

As they progress through their childhood, as well as the pressures of educational achievement children will also be exploring their social capability and their ability to navigate the complex world of human interactions. Giving children the building blocks to develop empathy for their peers, and resilience to scale the roadblocks set up before them, is crucial.

The joy in the Big Baby app is in the interplay between the child using the device and the outwardly simplistic animated baby. The “simple” actions of feeding, clothing and helping a small baby are actually part of the powerful process of learning to empathise.

It sounds so obvious, but even just the simple act of giving love to another human being is a vital part of our development. As a father and as a teacher, that’s far more important to me than being able to count from 1-20.

So as you’re shopping around for apps that might help your child “get ahead” and be “ready for school”, remember that social competence, empathy and resilience can actually be more important for your child to master than A-Z.