New ‘Sparkler' App Lets Parents Assess Child's Development

Connecticut is the first state in the country to launch the mobile app

NBC Connecticut

Parents keep a close eye on how their young kids are developing, and now, there is a new mobile app to help moms and dads track progress. Connecticut is the first state in the country to launch Sparkler.

“We know that children grow daily by having playful interactions,” Dr. Manish Juthani, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, said at a press conference for the app’s launch.

Public health officials and state leaders joined in Waterbury Thursday morning to announce that the new tool is now available to families statewide.

Sparkler is used to assess development in kids up to 5 years old, and also help them learn few fun activities. A few select childcare providers and parents have been testing the app through pilot programs.

“I'm a mom of three. I have an 11-year-old, a 4-year-old and a 5-month-old,” Harris said. “Between school, their activities, daycare, we're always ripping and running all the time!”

She says the Sparkler app makes it all a little bit easier, and she’s using it frequently.

“Probably every day! If not every other day,” Harris said.

She uses Sparkler to gauge the development of her two youngest kids.

“You want to make sure that while you're having fun, which is kind of how children learn and work in a sense, that you're still being able to see that they're hitting those milestones,” Harris said.

Parents can also add their own activities, like reading or drawing with chalk, and access thousands of fun ideas to try off-screen, like taking a fall walk. All the content is developed by early childhood educators.

“With my 5-month-old, there are a lot simpler tasks such as rolling over dancing together, singing together, things like that, that are simply fairly easy, but are huge for his development,” Harris said. “Whereas when you look at my 4-year-old, it's a little more challenging. We're throwing a ball and catching it with two hands were playing kickball.”

The Sparkler app lets parents continue activities that kids learn in preschool or child care at home. It also gives educators insight into a child’s development before they even step foot in a classroom.

“We don’t have to wait for the child to get here to learn them and learn their needs,” Kristen Jones, child development director at the Greater Waterbury YMCA, said.

The Greater Waterbury YMCA has also been a part of a pilot program for about two years. Parents of about 400 students used Sparkler before preschool enrollment.

“We give the results to our classroom teachers, from there our classroom, teachers are able to review it, they're able to start planning and modifying for that specific child,” Jones said.

She adds that the app is more user-friendly than older developmental tests.

“Previously it was always pen and paper, so things were getting lost, they weren’t being completed correctly,” she said.

Jones says the app offers building blocs to a strong educational foundation.

“It's good to know where your child is developmentally. If they're meeting benchmarks, and being given the tools without a school to better assist your child, I think it'll help tremendously,” she said.

Not only does Sparkler provide a pathway to growth, it also lets kids and their parents bond, something Harris is experiencing.

“It really helps me get that one-on-one time in with my children, because we are so busy,” Harris said. “A lot of times, it's hard to make sure you're getting that quality time while having fun and playing, while still simultaneously being able to track their development and their growth.”  

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