Sesame’s Best Practices Guide for Children’s App Development

written by: Richard Kastelein

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With ownership of tablets more than doubled over the last year, more children than ever are engaging with touch screen devices. Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, today released a paper that offers key findings from touch screen studies and tips for designing and developing apps and ebooks for preschoolers. Best Practices: Designing Touch Tablet Experiences for Preschoolers is based on more than 50 studies and shares Sesame Workshop's approach and discoveries in creating effective educational content for these mobile platforms.

Best Practices outlines interactive design points that research has shown to best support child engagement and learning on digital touch platforms. It also categorizes the most and least intuitive gestures for touch screens, tips for visual design and layout. Findings and tips include:

  • Provide dialogue and visual reinforcements to help preschoolers who usually cannot read.
  • Tapping is one of the most intuitive interactions for preschoolers while pinching and flicking are often difficult for children with developing motor skills.
  • Preschoolers are inclined to hold tablets in landscape view.
  • Preschoolers tend to rest their wrists along the bottom edge of tablets, making hotspots and icons placed along the edge potential triggers for unintentional actions that disrupt the activity.

"These best practices are a result of our research with preschoolers and their parents. We've developed highly effective methods and ways we can make apps and ebooks more engaging to help children learn," said Rosemarie Truglio, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Education and Research. "We design with parents and caregivers in mind and know that through joint media engagement children learn more and our content has a greater educational impact. In addition, we develop parent tips and have begun to integrate progress trackers as a helpful resource for parents."

The paper also outlines key features for book apps and ebooks such as including reading options with and without narration in ebooks and the ability for parents to turn off potentially distracting hotspots.

From the NYTs:

According to new research commissioned by Sesame Workshop, producer of PBS’s “Sesame Street,” mobile device ownership is booming as TV set ownership declines. Eighty-eight percent of the parents surveyed said they owned a television, down from 95 percent in 2010.

Twenty-one percent said their children first interacted with “Sesame Street” someplace other than television, with YouTube and the top alternative sources. (PBS said separately that its free PBS Kids Video app, which has been downloaded 2.4 million times, reached 120 million streams of PBS Kids shows in November, surpassing 100 million for the first time.)

...Since releasing its first app three years ago, Sesame Workshop has added more than three dozen, including Elmo Loves 123s, which was introduced Dec. 10 and draws on new research for developers and parents that Sesame plans to release this week. App users, Mr. Chambers said, tend to come back regularly, a loyalty that executives have noted as they consider future expansion in the category.

The rush to apps is changing the development process for PBS, which will no longer develop television-only shows, Ms. Rotenberg said. PBS’s newest property, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” came out as an app — already the company’s third best-selling — the day of the television premiere in September.




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