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The Kinedu app provides hundreds of activities that target various domains of infant and toddler development. Credit: Screenshot

When Kayla Ramsey learned about Goal Mama, a new app from the Nurse-Family Partnership, a home visiting program, she jumped at the chance to try it out. Ramsey, who lives in Montgomery, Alabama, and has participated in the Nurse-Family Partnership since she became pregnant more than two years ago, quickly found this app was different from other parenting apps. Instead of solely highlighting developmental information relevant to her toddler, Goal Mama focused more on Ramsey, giving her a platform to set and track progress toward goals, chat with her visiting nurse, connect with other moms and research strategies to manage stress and anxiety. The app even had an inbox where Kathy Pounds, the nurse who regularly visited Ramsey and her daughter, could send her encouraging messages and check in.

“I call it a support booster,” Ramsey said. “Those little things actually help.”

A 2018 survey found nearly half of millennial parents rely on mobile parenting apps for information relating to parenting and children

Goal Mama is part of a new generation of parenting apps that are interactive, personalized and focused on educating caregivers rather than just focusing on developmental milestones. Several of these apps aim to connect parents to experts and provide support, especially with issues like career progress, breastfeeding and interacting with infants. A 2017 review of nearly 50 parenting education apps available on the Apple app store found this kind of tailored support is lacking: although many provided parenting information, none provided “a customized experience.”

A 2018 survey found nearly half of millennial parents rely on mobile parenting apps for information relating to parenting and children and more than half rely on science-based websites, although usage varies depending on parent demographics, with lower-income parents less likely to turn to science-based sources.

Goal Mama targets parents who may lack access to evidence-based information. The app is only available for parents who participate in the Nurse-Family Partnership program, which serves low-income, first time mothers nationwide. Other more widely available apps include Kinedu, which has partnered with Stanford University and the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child to research and present evidence-based content. The app asks parents to take a survey of their child’s development and then provides ideas for appropriate activities. Creator Luis Garza said the goal is to help parents better understand their child’s development and feel more confident about how to “get involved” to help their baby as they developmental milestones. “Intuitively, parents know a lot,” Garza said. “But they feel that they don’t.”

“Intuitively, parents know a lot. But they feel that they don’t.”

Here’s a look at a few more apps that are zeroing in on caregiver capacity and support:

  • An app for parent-child interactions: Last year, the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health at the University of Chicago received a $3.3 million grant from PNC Bank to develop a campaign to help parents support their infants’ and toddlers’ cognitive development. The campaign teaches parents simple techniques, such as encouraging young children to describe colors or count objects in picture books and responding to a baby’s coos. It will include an app to be released next month in English and Spanish. The app and the larger campaign are targeting parents in underserved neighborhoods.
  • A bilingual language-learning app: Hablame Bebe, which means “talk to me baby” in Spanish, was developed by Melissa Baralt, associate professor of applied linguistics at Florida International University, to encourage Spanish-speaking mothers to talk to their babies in Spanish with the help of educational resources and conversational cues. Research shows that when parents use a non-native language to speak to their infants, they talk less and use less complex vocabulary. Many parents feel pressure to speak to their children only in English, researchers have found, which means children of Spanish-speaking parents may fall behind in language development.
  • A reading support app: ReadAskChat is an app that hosts a picture book library for children 6 months to 4 years old and includes stories, poems, songs and math activities. As families read through the stories, the app includes conversation starters at three developmental levels to help parents support reading with their children.
  • An app for breastfeeding: LatchME is aimed at nursing mothers. The app provides evidence-based information on breastfeeding, connects mothers to lactation consultants and has a tool so mothers can find a clean place to breastfeed their infants when they’re on the go.

Editor’s note: This story led off this week’s Early Childhood newsletter, which is delivered free to subscribers’ inboxes every other Wednesday with trends and top stories about early learning. Subscribe today!

This story about parenting apps was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.

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Jackie Mader is multimedia editor. She has covered preK-12 education and teacher preparation nationwide, with a focus on the rural south. Her work has appeared in the The Denver Post, the Sun Herald and...

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