Babies, toddlers and young children develop new skills almost every day and amaze the people around them again and again. “Sometimes the developmental steps are easy to observe in everyday life, sometimes playful tasks help,” says Moritz Daum, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Zurich. So that parents can better recognize and record their children’s progress, he and his team have developed the “kleineWeltentdecker” (“small world explorers”) app.
The app is aimed at parents of children between 0 and 6 years and records specific developmental steps in movement, cognition and speech. For example, does a baby turn around when you call its name? Will it find a toy that you’ve hidden before its eyes? Can it grab two toy blocks with one hand at the same time? The abilities are derived scientifically and adapted to the age of the child.
Explanations and illustrations make it clear when and how new abilities emerge and help parents to understand their significance in the development process. “In the app, parents learn, for example, what their child should bring with them for a specific developmental step, and they receive tips on how to promote progress,” explains Daum. They also have the opportunity to assign photos to individual developmental steps. These milestones can then be shared with friends and relatives by text message, e-mail and on social media, or compiled into a developmental diary.
By observing and documenting their children’s abilities, parents – following the citizen science approach – make a significant contribution toward better understanding the early stages of development. The anonymized data will allow researchers of the University of Zurich to develop longitudinal analyses and better investigate the connections between cognitive, motor and linguistic skills. Moritz Daum and his team, for example, want to find out the order in which children acquire Swiss-German vocabulary and grammatical constructions. “The app works in two directions,” says Daum. “We impart our current knowledge to the users, and they in turn support us in refining it and gaining new insights.”