kids

ROAD TEST: The free, science-backed app that helps develop kids' brains at home.

Telethon Kids Institute
Thanks to our brand partner, Telethon Kids Institute

We find ourselves in strange times right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has flipped life as we knew it on its head. We’re now physically distanced from friends and extended family, doing loads more jigsaw puzzles than usual and saying yes to pancakes for dinner. That last one’s a joke. Or is it?

While we’re busy juggling work and life, while living firmly in each other’s pockets, as parents we want to make sure we’re still doing the best we can for our kids. We may not be in control of much right now, but we can at least feel in control of our kids’ development.

The Bright Tomorrows parenting app is designed by experts to help build a child’s brain and their core life skills. It suggests easy and effective ways to incorporate learning opportunities into the daily routine, using everyday household items – no expensive toys required. Bobbie, a creature that represents a baby’s brain, features throughout the app, which gives parents and carers a helpful scientific snapshot of why these activities help brain development in the app’s Brainy Background.

There’s no better time to try it out than during isolation, as a positive thing you can do for your family.

Research shows us the early years from zero to five are a great opportunity to build a child’s health, development and learning. CoLab, a partnership between the Telethon Kids Institute and the Minderoo Foundation, developed the free app as a tool to support parents to raise healthy, happy children. The app provides expert advice on development and learning, and it’s backed by child development science. It offers tailored tips, or ‘moments’, to develop your child’s essential life skills through everyday activities.

It was made possible through collaborations with the Bezos Family Foundation and Vroom, Raising Children Network, Better Beginnings and Michigan State University.

Honestly, it sounds like a no-brainer, and I’m fresh out of ideas. I download the free app before breakfast, quickly plugging in some details about my four-year-old son, Max. The app asks for his age and the areas we’d like to focus on for brain development. I choose ‘Managing Emotions, Planning and Routines, and Taking on Challenges’ and the app then tailors the ‘moments’ it suggests to me based on what I want most. It also directs me to the in-app Grow course, just for parents. I’m given the guided goal of Finding Calm and given a stress-busting strategy to apply over the next two weeks.

A breakfast moment

As we decorate bowls of porridge with banana slices, I choose my first moment from the app and start a conversation around choice. Would you rather be a fish or a bird, and why? Would you rather be invisible or able to fly? Would you rather live underwater or in space? I can see this activity having lots of potential for extension, in the car or as a useful distraction tool. I encourage Max to ask questions of me, too as the Brainy Background tells me that asking and answering questions helps develop his reasoning skills. So far, so good.

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Would you rather be invisible or able to fly? Image: Supplied

A late morning moment

We make a shopping list together. I spell Max’s choices aloud while he writes them down. C-A-P-S-I-C-U-M, I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M, B-L-U-E-B-E-R-R-I-E-S. This is something we do regularly, but the app encourages us to take it further. The ‘moment’ suggests we incorporate the list items into a story, reinforcing them for memory and developing creativity at the same time. We have some laughs as an improbable and reasonably disgusting story unfolds. It’s a fun way to practise our list items and also to lighten the mood.

Max writing the shopping list. Image: Supplied
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Pre-bath madness moment

Rather than fight the crazy 6pm energy surge, we embrace it. Using a planning and routines moment for inspiration, we embark on a family packing up mission with a race to pick up toys the fastest. The moment suggests changing up the rules along the way, such as finding something red or blue. This helps shift the focus away from the chore of tidying up to a fun mission – and helps him use his critical thinking skills at the same time. Max’s competitive streak is out in full force, and the living room looks all the better for it. Huge tick.

Who can pack the toys up the quickest? Image: Supplied

A sweet dreams moment

Love connections, a "taking on challenges" moment, feels like the right choice for this evening. With Guess How Much I Love You, a favourite book on rotation, we’re all about the love talk at bedtime right now. I do savour these moments, as they’re interspersed with moody cries of ‘I’m not your best friend anymore!’

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Let’s be honest. We’re all struggling to manage our emotions from time to time in isolation. The app encourages us to trade words of love by building comparisons. I love you as much as a bee loves flowers, a mouse loves cheese and so on. I had no idea that by asking him to make these connections, he’s learning a new way of sorting information – the same skills that are important in maths, science and reading. It’s a lovely way to end the day and connect before saying goodnight.

Professor Donna Cross from Telethon Kids Institute breaks it down for us. “You can make a big difference to your children’s brain development with just a few of these brief, meaningful moments of interaction each day,” Cross says. “Skills like communicating, helping your children to focus their attention and responding to emotions are important for our children at any time, but particularly now when they may be trying to manage emotions like anxiety, feeling frightened or frustrated,” she explains.

Nicola Forrest from the Minderoo Foundation continued. “Think of the app like your friendly local librarian. Instead of searching through a library for advice or ideas, the friendly librarian meets you at the door and offers you ways to engage with your children based on their age and interests and your priorities and values as a parent or carer. The app learns as it interacts with you so, as you continue to visit, the recommendations or moments as they are called in the app, will feel even more personalised to you and your family.”

Once Max is fast asleep and I’ve had dinner and my Instagram fix, I set about planning some ideas for the next day. I saved my favourite ideas as they popped up in the app during the day, so there are plenty to choose from.

I think we’ll focus on getting active indoors since the forecast’s looking wet. My mind feels at ease, and I realise that the little moments do add up. Each one we take together is a chance to build important developmental skills for life. It turns out we can kick some pretty big iso goals, after all.

For moments like these with your child, download the Bright Tomorrows app on the App Store or Google Play.

Image: Supplied.

Telethon Kids Institute

One in five children in Australia have been identified as being developmentally vulnerable - in essence, they are starting full time school behind the national average in physical health, social competence, emotional maturity, language and communication skills.
CoLab - Collaborate for Kids is a joint initiative between the Telethon Kids Institute and Minderoo Foundation, aimed at improving the lives of all children, including those facing disadvantage and bridging the gap between the least and most vulnerable.

CoLab does this by bringing together families with researchers, practitioners and policy makers to discover ways for each and every child to thrive. Established in 2017 and based at Perth Children’s Hospital, CoLab conducts and curates robust research and disseminates this quality evidence in ways that can easily be used by families, practitioners and policy makers to enhance all children's development.

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