A new study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst shows that Khan Academy’s free app for children ages 2 to 8, Khan Academy Kids, increases pre-literacy skills among preschool-aged children from low-income families.
Pre-literacy skills are defined as the important pre-reading skills that children need to succeed in kindergarten, like knowing the letters of the alphabet and having the ability to sound them out. Low-income children often arrive at kindergarten behind their peers and struggle to catch up.
In a randomized control trial, the researchers at UMass followed 49 four-and five-year-old children from families with an annual median income of $24,000. Before the study, the children’s pre-literacy skills were well below the national average, likely due to the effects of poverty.
Over a 10-week period, the children were asked to play with the Khan Academy Kids app for 20 minutes per day. At the end of the study, their pre-literacy skills rose to almost the national average. Their overall scores on TOPEL ( Test of Preschool Early Literacy) rose from the 34th percentile to the 47th percentile (a .72 effect size). The children’s phonological awareness subscore on TOPEL rose from the 23rd percentile to the 47th percentile (a .56 effect size).
The size of the gains are as large as those found by expensive interventions. For example, the phonological gains are comparable to those found in an intervention of 25 one-on-one sessions with a professional tutor.
Khan Academy Kids’ mission is to close the opportunity gap that exists between children from families that are underserved and their peers before they start school. We are heartened that the results of the study indicate that the Khan Academy Kids app can help children who need access to free high-quality resources the most.
The study results were presented at the annual conference for the Cognitive Development Society and are currently under peer review for journal publication. Funding for the study was provided by the Overdeck Family Foundation and the iPads used in the study were provided from an anonymous donor.
Khan Academy Kids is a free app that covers reading, math, physical movement, creativity, and social-emotional learning. It places the child at the center by encouraging play and serving up a personalized learning path based on a child's developmental needs. The app is available for free on iPhone, iPad, Google Play, and Amazon.
Nelson, J. R., Benner, G. J., & Gonzalez, J. (2014). An investigation of the effects of a prereading intervention on the early literacy skills of children at risk of emotional disturbance and reading problems. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 13, 3-12. doi:10.1177/10634266050130010101