If you have an iPad in the house, chances are it spends plenty of time in your kid’s hands. They’re drawn to the big visuals and touch-screen interaction, but it can be tricky to find ways to make the tablet experience educational (or at least beneficial) in between YouTube videos and race-car games. Which is exactly why the News-O-Matic app exists.
Montclair resident Russell Kahn is the editor-in-chief of News-O-Matic, which is the first iPad app from Press4Kids, a company that aims to provide kids ages 7-10 with safe and smart ways to learn about current events. “We figure out what kids need to know about, what’s relevant to them, and what will inspire them,” says Kahn. “We don’t want to scare them, but we want to explain serious stories, fun stories, international stories—a mix of things they’ll want to read about and things they need to read about.”
Kahn, who is is 36, has a background in educational publishing (the same field his wife works in; they also have a son and a daughter) and says that News-O-Matic fits right in with the work he’s always done: “It’s always been my goal since I started my career to gets kids inspired to read.” And now he’s also wearing a newsman’s cap, finding a handful of stories for the app’s daily edition, with the hopes that kids will develop positive media habits.
The app’s editorial team balances serious topics, like government budget deals and the passing of Hugo Chavez, alongside lighter fare about the dogs who race in the Iditarod and a museum exhibit about video games. “I want to get kids to actually read the article, and another, and come back to read the next day, becoming a regular reader of the news,” says Kahn.
But because News-O-Matic was created specifically for the iPad, it’s not just a list of stories with a few images thrown in. In fact, Kahn and his team of editors and developers essentially re-architect the app on a regular basis, including interactive games and taking advantage of the tablet’s technology to makes the news come alive for 21st-century kids. For example, kids can always see a map of where they are in relationship to where a story is taking place—whether it’s Denver or Dubai—and calculate how long it would take to fly there or ride a bicycle. And there are games built into each edition to keep young fingers tapping through the day’s news.
Kahn especially relishes the interactivity and communication inherent in the iPad. “It’s easy for me to say I know what kids like,” he says, but there’s nothing better than 9-year-olds telling you what’s important to them.” And what do they like? “Stories about animals and technology,” he says with a chuckle. “The challenge is to get them to like a story about the election in Kenya or refugees in Syria.”
Right now, News-O-Matic is the only app available from Press4Kids, but they have a vision of adding apps that will serve audiences outside of News-O-Matic’s 7-10 range. “We want kids to love reading,” says Kahn. “It’s a grand goal, but we all believe in it, it’s our core mission. We believe in teaching kids about their world and empowering them to change it.”
News-O-Matic is free to download in Apple’s iTunes store. Users can try 3 issues for free; weekly, monthly, and yearly subscriptions are available through the app for $1.99, $6.99, and $49.99, respectively.