You spill your coffee while scarfing down a croissant as you prepare oatmeal for your 4-year-old, who is telling you her blue jeans are too scratchy. Then you realize you forgot to pick up your dry cleaning just as you see you only have 11 minutes to drop Amanda off at Pre-K and catch the 8:15 bus.
Then your phone buzzes. You look, of course. But it’s not a Snapchat from your sister. It’s an alert to “check out today’s brain builder” from Vroom, an app developed with the backing of the Bezos Family Foundation. And it turns out to be exactly what you need to turn your harried everyday routine into a teachable moment.
“Magic Ride,” says the header, followed by a suggestion.
“Today, while waiting for a bus or walking to the car, ask Amanda where she would like to go if this vehicle could go anywhere. Talk about why she would want to go there, who you’ll see on the way, or how long she thinks it will take.”
Vroom, which is specifically for parents of kids from birth through age 5 and is customizable for name, gender and age, is available in both English and Spanish versions for Android and Apple devices, as well as Amazon Fire. It has been downloaded more than 50,000 times in nearly 140 countries since it went live 18 months ago. The preponderance of reviews give it the maximum five stars, with comment headings generally along the lines of “Awesome Tool.”
“Science tells us that the first years of a child’s life are so critical in laying down the foundation for all future learning; there are 700 neurons firing every second,” says Elyse Rowe, the communications manager for the foundation, which was started in 2000 by Jackie and Mike Bezos with their three children (including Amazon founder Jeff_ and their spouses.
The foundation began funding research into early childhood education eight years ago and has been developing the creative tools and materials used in Vroom for four years, relying on a panel of academicians to vet ideas, produce actionable suggestions and provide an understandable rationale for each activity with the “Brainy Background.”
For “Magic Ride,” as an example, “helping Amanda imagine an experience is a chance for you to help her hear and learn new words and become a more confident communicator,” you are informed.
Vroom also invites parents to submit their own tips through email or social media, but the experts review all of the ideas — and explain the benefit of the activity — before they are distributed to members.
Besides the app, suggestions are printed of the labels of Goya products and inserted with the packaging of some Johnson & Johnson products, such as shampoo. They're also loaded on the Johnson's Baby Facebook page. Amazon Baby Registry is a partner, too.
Working with the Johannes Leonardo agency, Vroom is looking for additional brand allies. “We realized that brands have this really trusted place in people’s lives,” Rowe says. “They are often the only thing there with families at those teachable moments such as mealtime or bath time.”
Vroom also partners with a number of national and locally based community organizations such as Save the Children and Suncoast GL Reading program to spread the word, both online and in the field, as well as media companies such as Univision Contigo. Rowe calls it a “surround sound” approach to getting the word out.
Vroom expects to produce additional video about its science and research on its YouTube channel in the coming months. It also has an incipient presence on Vimeo, Instagram and Pinterest, but most of its activity in socials channels is on Facebook and Twitter.
Jess Estrada, the foundation’s digital media manager, breaks the content into four buckets: one, tips; two, Vroom news and updates; three, partner news; and four, early learning news and parenting tips.
As Vroom grains momentum online, look for more parent storytelling and community-building efforts, Estrada says, as well as improvements in the apps to make it easier to integrate their observations on social media channels.
As for future directions, “the second biggest time of the developing brain is in adolescence, so there’s a lot of opportunity there, too,” Rowe points out.
We wish the foundation — and all the parents who will be disrupting tunnel-vision thumbing on other apps — much luck with that.