BabyFirst develops baby's first apps
Aug 25, 2012 (Austin American-Statesman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Babies love iPad apps and TV. Really, they do, or maybe it's their parents who love having media outlets for their children.
Sharon Rechter, co-founder of BabyFirst, has seen her audience grow from a premium TV service for children ages 6 months to 3 years in 2006 to a cable channel that she says reaches 80 million homes in 35 countries today. In Austin, it's available on DirecTV and Dish Network but not on Time Warner Cable.
Now, BabyFirst has 36 apps that have been downloaded 2.4 million times, and its online videos are being downloaded at 2.4 million video sessions a month.
BabyFirst is growing with the times, but should such a young audience be soaking up electronic media Austin pediatrician Ari Brown says technology is moving so quickly that there's not adequate research on whether apps for children younger than 3 are a good thing. We do know, Brown says, that children younger than 2 don't get the context when watching TV. "Something gets lost in translation," she says, but by 2 1/2, they get it.
A young child watching TV or playing with an app is never as good as playing with a real toy or interacting with an adult, she says. "It's never going to be as good as you sitting down with your child." Rechter says when her company sat down to design television content, and now the apps, she wanted it to be an interactive experience. BabyFirst shows include subtitles to tell the mom, dad or caregiver how to talk to their baby about the show. If the TV shows a bouncing ball, the subtitle might say, "Ask, 'What color is the ball '" One of the goals, she says, is to teach parents how to interact with their children.
Yet, she knows that parents don't always use the TV show or the apps or the videos in an interactive way. Sometimes, parents need to take a shower or do a load of laundry.
"If I feel that while I need time for myself I'm giving children something they can benefit from, I feel good about that," Rechter says.
Apps, she says, are even more exciting than TV because they are inherently interactive. "Apps require interaction, to make choices. They're moving their fingers. They're discovering what is a wiggly line because they have to follow the wiggly line," she says. "Apps are the next generation of learning." BabyFirst apps are designed to grow with the child. If a TV show features a sand drawing of a horse, a 3-month-old is tracking the movement of the drawing with his eye, the 1-year-old is getting the concept of the shape of a horse, and the 3-year-old is guessing what the drawing will be, Rechter says.
Some of Rechter's favorite shows, which have spawned apps and eBooks, are "Harry the Bunny," which focuses on social interaction between Harry and his mother and sister; "Shushybye," which talks to kids about their dreams before they go to sleep at night; and "VocabuLarry," which explores new words with kids.
The shows are short, three to five minutes long, and parents can also download them for those times when the grocery store line isn't any fun.
BabyFirst is a 24-hour station, and Rechter got a reminder that people are indeed watching it 24 hours a day when DirecTV lost the signal at 4 a.m. They got hundreds of calls, Rechter says, some people using choice words when their favorite lullaby shows to get baby back to sleep were suddenly gone.
Next up for BabyFirst: eight-minute-long movies for babies.
Contact Nicole Villalpando at 912-5900 ___ (c)2012 Austin American-Statesman, Texas Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com Distributed by MCT Information Services