To app or not to app? Digital learning and the way forward

Ladybird's Digital Marketing Manager Charlie Parker discusses the use of digital devices and their role in enhancing children's learning. 

Increasingly, children are interacting with digital devices as part of their daily learning and for some children digital devices are as commonplace in the home as the humble television. There is even anecdotal evidence that children can prefer these digital devices over their toys and games. With schools looking more and more to digital innovation in the classroom and with headlines claiming that children will read their first novel in digital form, it’s no wonder that parents and teachers are still asking questions of what all this extra screen time will mean for children and their development. LB_BT_App_in_situ_Home Ladybird have created digital products for babies and toddlers from the simple – such as the Baby Touch apps – to the more immersive experience – such as the Ladybird Classic Me Books app. These apps are always a nod to their printed counterparts, exploring opportunities when the book can be converted to the screen in a fun, educational and interactive way.


Although I mentioned that parents and teachers may have concerns about their children using devices, iTunes reviews give a great insight into how parents are also embracing this digital content; our apps have been receiving fantastic feedback like: "Can't wait to share more of the classics from my childhood with my children, and in such a fun way"  and The colors, animals, sounds are terrific. Recommend these apps to anyone with a toddler!”

I spoke to Nathan Hull, Digital Publisher at Penguin to get his take on how Ladybird develops and produces apps:

“Apps and – increasingly – interactive eBooks are providing a new conduit for learning and engagement for children. We test and research all our products with nurseries and schools and we have found, without a doubt, that the ability digital products provide to prompt sound, move an image, lift a map or play simple games wins the imagination of children (and the parents themselves). These digital products are simply transferring many of Ladybird’s traditional print skills into today’s multi-format environment.”

The digitisation of books faces similar concerns as the digitisation of the film and music in the past; the feeling of taking a step away from the traditional form, missing out on the physical experience of holding and engaging with printed a book. Yet digital opens up reading, it’s a new and exciting format and may even serve to make books more appealing to the reluctant reader. As well as this, it offers a great way of taking a whole library of books and content on the road for holidays and road trips where the kids need occupying – sometimes for hours on end!. Ladybird have produced some lovely eBooks of classic fairytales such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears as well as eBooks of favourite characters Peppa Pig and Ben and Holly (Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom).

    Peppasports   Goldilocks

We spoke to children's author and reading consultant Justine Smith to get her advice on digital learning and reading for babies, toddlers and young children.

1. What educational value do you think digital devices have? They are clearly entertaining for children but what exactly can children learn? Bottom line – would a teacher approve?

JS: Digital devices can add an interactive and dynamic dimension to learning and most importantly they can be playful. Today's kids are so used to screens and gadgets that using them can make the content of what they're doing feel more relevant to them.  I think teachers absolutely do approve of anything that's going to inspire and motivate children. Learning via a digital medium need not necessarily be a dumbing-down process – far from it.

2. How much screen time should children have and should it change as they get older -  6 months, 1 year, 3 years etc?

JS: Parents need to trust their instincts and for young babies, a few minutes shared screen time is enough. There are some good early years dvds especially designed for older babies and they will all suggest screen-time is shared with a caring and engaged adult. The message for carers of preschoolers is that screens are not a bad thing, they are part of our lives. But the TV or computer is no substitute for YOU, the parent or carer.  What's happening on screen can be an invaluable prompt to help us chat to young children – so spending time in front of screens together is best of all!

3. When children are playing on digital devices such as the iPad, should parents accompany them or let them discover by themselves, or a combination of both.

JS: The prevailing myth is that iPads and their cousin devices are so intuitive that even teeny-tiny children can navigate them alone – actually young children do need a little prompting and guidance and will gain so much more from the experience if they share it with an adult. Of course, iPads and iPhones can be fantastically useful on car journeys and in queues!

4. Some parents might be concerned that these devices will replace books – how would you answer that concern.

JS: I don't see digital devices replacing the magic, sensory experience of turning the page; there's a collectible, sturdy and reassuring dimension to books. We have to see digital narratives as an exciting parallel world are children will dive into – both mediums are exploring ways of telling stories and they're about shaping a kind of deep imaginative play – it doesn't really matter how stories are told to us, we just need to keep hearing them.

We’d love to hear about your experiences using apps and reading eBooks with your child; leave a comment and let us know if you’ve found your child more receptive to engaging with books and words in this way. If you do read to your child on devices, do you also read from physical books? Do you have a concern about what is an appropriate amount of screen time? How do you find out about good educational apps for babies and toddlers? 

You might also be interested in reading these posts from the Ladybird team on the Baby Touch app and the Peppa Pig app.


If you have any concerns about children having access to the internet, the BBC have produced some excellent guidelines for making sure your child’s experience online is as safe as possible.

6 thoughts on “To app or not to app? Digital learning and the way forward

  1. Thanks for a well informed and balanced article. My middle daughter is almost 3 and has always been interested in books. She now loves to read books on my ipad. I think good quality apps like your classic me books app, add another dimension to reading and sharing stories. My 7 year old has narrated some of the stories for her sister so we have some collaboration too.
    My daughter has also learned new rhymes, chants and songs from apps and the ability to engage with the screen increases motivation. I think there is scope for early literacy experts like Ros Bayley to use this new technology to spread their rhymes and stories to a wider audience.
    As an early education consultant I come across a lot of negativity towards screen based technology. I think its very much about how we use it. If parents are replacing sharing books with their children with sitting them infront of an ipad then yes this would be worrying but no more so than sitting children infront of a television or dvd. At least using the apps they are hearing and playing with stories.
    I think the point about how we find good apps is a valid one. I think its hard to pick out the best apps, I generally go with recommendations or tried and tested names like ladybird. Maybe the National Literacy Trust could endorse some of the best ones?
    Thank you for creating such good apps, I hope that more stories will follow.

  2. My daughter was just 5 months when we got an iPad and we downloaded the Peekaboo apps. We think it’s not only helped her learning but her hand-eye co-ordination. At 14 months now she is able to recognise familiar apps and pick them out on the screen and navigate through them knowing when to click and where on the screen and repeat some of the words. As a result she seems to think that anything with a screen is touch-responsive and will often touch the TV screen. The way we use the iPad is very much in the same way we read books, which is together. We haven’t used it as a replacement for books as a lot of the traditional children’s book experiences don’t carry across well onto the iPad if the publisher has simply copied the text and images to a screen and all they’re asking you to do is click to the next page.

  3. Sally Millard says:

    We bought an ipad just before our second daughter was born. She is now 15 months and loves the ipad. She has her favourite apps and loves using it. Her 6 year old sister uses it lots too. It is great in the car or in a restaurant. I was very wary at first as i feel they can be anti social devices, but we have to find a happy medium. I work in a library and we love books and .i am fierce about not losing that. It is about how you let it be used, but they need to be allowed because they are the new generation and will be even more aware of technology.

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