As the mother of a busy two-year-old, early learning has become more important to me than ever. Not just the theory behind why it’s so important, but also everything I still need to learn about what I can actually do–the apps, programs, books, toys, experiences and schools that are available to help best prepare my daughter for grade school.

So much of who my toddler will become and how she’ll learn and excel in school starts now. But amongst potty training, well child exams, snack retrieval, nap times, meal time protests and everything else that comes along with parenting, it can be overwhelming. Being a “Smart Parent” can be a tough challenge to navigate.

Depending on who you talk to, screen time can be a tricky conversation. In our home, we limit screen time, but if you’ve ever tried to get ready for work with a toddler you know what it means to “call in reinforcements”–aka the iPad. Working in education, I’ve done my fair share of research, so I’m always on the hunt for the best app or game for my daughter to play.

Lately, she’s been obsessed with YouTube Kids (aren’t all children?), and loves to watch Play-Doh videos where they build shapes, talk about colors and sometimes even weave in emotions and daily activities (eating, resting, playing, bath time etc.). Just last week while using the iPad she started pointing to and saying the names of the colors in the video, and was so excited to show me everything she knew. Parenthood comes with constant worry, but in that moment I knew that the relatively small amount of time she’s using the iPad isn’t a bad thing, and is in fact helping her learn, interact with the world around her and get excited about learning.

One thing I’ve found while searching the app store is that there isn’t enough information about app capabilities or how they may relate to my child’s developmental stages and needs. Additionally, my nephew has just wrapped up PreK and will be headed to Kindergarten next month, but he didn’t have any tech in his curriculum during PreK. When you hear from most PreK program leaders, they’re often stumped on what tech/apps are best to use, and where to use them. There is a clear need for tech-enabled resources and content that can be embedded into a young learner’s other experiences in school.

NewSchools Ignite Challenge: Creating Tools for Early Learners

Earlier this month, NewSchools Venture Fund released a Market Gap Snapshot: a compilation of research and findings that uncovered unmet needs in EdTech tools tailored specifically for PreK through 2nd-grade learners. Tools that students, teacher and parents could use to help enhance student interactions, create engaging, interactive experiences for students that support their academic and social-emotional development, and expand opportunities for families to discover developmentally-appropriate learning experiences.

Those findings have fueled the latest ed tech funding opportunity from NewSchools–the NewSchools Ignite Early Learning Challenge – PreK-2–which is calling for entrepreneurs to develop tech-enabled learning experiences, content, diagnostics and administrative tools that support young learners.

Some findings to consider:

  • Children who don’t attend preschool are developmentally behind by almost a year or more by the time they enter Kindergarten.
  • 60 percent of four-year-olds are not enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs.
  • A child’s learning experiences in pre-kindergarten through early elementary are shaped by many factors, including race and income.
  • Parents want to use educational technology to understand their child’s early learning goals in school and better assist their children at home with learning challenges.

I had a chance to talk with Tonika Cheek Clayton, Managing Partner at NewSchools, about these findings, and how NewSchools is approaching tech for early learners. “A big key to student learning at an early age is centered around their interaction with adults and other kids their age. Technology in early learning is not meant to take that away, but instead enhance and improve those interactions,” said Tonika.

The NewSchools Ignite Early Learning Challenge – PreK-2 is offering funding for innovative teams of educators and entrepreneurs who are creating EdTech tools that address the needs of early learners during a crucial time for their development. These tools should be made for use by students, teachers and/or parents, and submissions are due by Thursday, August 31st. Enter today!

Stay tuned, and we’ll share more about the winners once announced! In the meantime, what’s your favorite educational app for a PreK-2nd grade student? Tweet us @Getting_Smart, or leave a note in the comments section below!

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