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An App For and With Parents
Sandra Gutierrez

How does one go about making an app for and with parents? Our program, Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors, engages parents to be their young children’s first and most influential teacher. Given that 71% of Hispanic adults own a smartphone, we felt it was time to open a new door and use technology to further promote school readiness, family well-being, and parent advocacy.

We have always prioritized the voices of parents in our work, and as we began to think about how to build an app, we knew our first step needed to involve parents. We decided to speak with 400 mothers and fathers throughout the country who were either Spanish-speaking or bilingual, whether or not they participated in Abriendo Puertas, in order to understand what parents would like to see in the app.

Initially, we thought the app could serve as an extension of our current training program. However, our Abriendo Puertas parents did not feel the program would translate well into an app format. They felt that the app would not allow for the discussions and interactive activities that make the in-person training program such a valuable and rich experience.

When we asked the broader group of parents to share their ideas for the app’s content and features, the most common response was that the app needed to be “easy, useful, fun, and enjoyable.” They felt that the app would be most effective if it avoided a lot of text, provided information for parents with children of all ages, and presented real families. Thus, videos featuring real parents are the heart and soul of the app. We are also developing two games, one of which explores the myths and realities of child development.

In addition to providing feedback on the look and usability of the app, parents shared their ideas for the app’s content. The mothers and fathers we talked with mentioned that little information is available in Spanish about handling stress, and many felt that the app could fill this gap and provide valuable information. Parents wanted to see best practices for supporting dual language learners at home and in school, strategies for handling challenges they might encounter in the school system, and ideas for helping children who experience bullying. Our app has gone through a number of iterations, and parents continue to play an important role in the process.

Listening to parents was the most important aspect of this work, and it allowed us to understand parents’ desires and needs. By placing parents’ voices at the center of our development process and creating a co-design strategy, we are in a position to share an app that will provide useful and relevant information for parents.

Related Resouces
FINE Newsletter: How Families Can Enrich Digital Media Learning Experiences for Their Children

FINE Newsletter: Making it Real—Connected Learning in the Digital Age


Sandra Gutierrez is the founder and national director of Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors. Her multifaceted career has included founding the first service organization to assist Central American refugees, developing health education programs for the United Farm Workers of  America, and leading campaigns to promote the benefits of preschool to the Latino community. In 2014, she was named a Cesar E. Chavez Champion of Change by  the White House.

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Published by Harvard Family Research Project