Technology & Young Children - Part 3 - Tips for Finding the Right Preschool Apps

6 December 2017

preschool tech educational apps

In 2015, the Apple App Store included more than 80,000 apps classified as education or learning-based. A 2013 survey by Common Sense Media found that 58% of parents of young children had downloaded apps, a number that I’m sure is certainly higher today. A 2014 report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, found that just over half of parents thought their children learned “a lot” from educational technologies. But they also said they were looking for guidance on how to choose educational apps from trusted sources. So, when you are considering downloading apps for your little one, consider these 5 tips for finding or identifying educational apps.

  1. Make sure digital play involves active learning. Active learning can be physical activity, and mental activity as well. Simply tapping or swiping to make something happen on the screen is not necessarily active learning. Many apps get children touching the screen physically without much active learning. For example, moving images around to complete a puzzle or word is in fact active learning. Your child must think and consider what could happen next before making a move, then completing an action for a specific purpose, like moving a puzzle piece into place. This is in direct contrast to simply swiping aimlessly. Want to more know about the benefits of active learning? My blog, Raising an Entrepreneur with Active Learning, has more easy ways to encourage active learning with your preschooler.
  2. Look for apps that support your child’s learning process. Engaging in the learning process means not just getting the child’s attention, but also keeping it on those elements of the app that support learning, and avoid distractions. In many apps, animations, sound effects might be appealing to a child when activated, but do not add to the child’s understanding of the primary content because they disrupt the learning experience and the child’s engagement. For example, when learning math concepts like numbers, constant interruptions with funny sounds when numbers are clicked on distracts your little one's limited concentration from the number concepts themselves. My blog, Attention Span: It’s Short and Not Always Sweet will help you understand your preschooler’s ability to focus and foster learning at the same time.
  3. Choose digital play that provides meaningful learning. Learning occurs when it connects directly or is relevant to your child.. This means an app or game relates to the things your child already knows or because it provides information they were looking for. For example, video games with animals or characters your preschooler is familiar with are more meaningful than those with exotic, unnatural-looking animals or characters. Young children are drawn to things that they can identify with in their own world. So, apps that are very different from your child’s experiences may appeal to you as an adult, but won’t be meaningful for your child. If you're curious about your child’s learning process, find our more my blog, Prime Time for Brain Development.
  4. Encourage social interaction. The digital media you choose for your child can allow for social interaction in several ways: First, children can interact in-person, one-on-one with the app focusing their attention on it. Second, multiple users can engage at one time, interacting through the app. This happens when two children take turns playing with an app or game. And thirdly, children can interact with application’s characters themselves. Your children can talk about what they see and how they can cause characters to take action in a game or story. Learn more about preschoolers playing together with other children in my blog, Stages of Young Children’s Play.
  5. Look for interactive experiences that are made and tested by early childhood educators. Remember that not all apps are educational. While many can be active, engaging, meaningful, and interactive, but they do not lead to deep learning. The apps that result in deep learning are those designed with a specific educational goal that guides your child’s learning. While there is nothing wrong with being amused, it’s so much better to have an amusing learning experience. This is a much more productive use of your child’s time.

Truly educational apps will tell you if the application producers have literacy or child development credentials. As such, the apps should have been tested to see if they meet their learning goals. Another good sign is if the app’s educational focus is clearly stated. For example, the game’s description will let you know it’s designed to reinforce numbers and learning their sequence. Check out online sources for apps that include customer reviews too. Web sites like Common Sense Media and Children’s Technology Review, provide customer reviews on educational apps and children’s technology.

And even more directly, you can use your own knowledge of your child to tell you if the app is truly engaging and educational. For example, when your child spends less than a few minutes playing, even if it meets the educational points I mention here, it obviously is not reaching your child’s developmental level.

While there continue to be debates in educational circles about young children’s exposure to technology, it’s clear that technology marketed as "educational" is here to stay. So, use the tips I’ve provided to guide your choice in purchasing apps for your preschooler. Let us know, what educational apps have you found to be most effective for your little one’s learning? You can give us your feedback right here. And, when you reach the point when you want to unplug from all these apps, my blog, Spend a Rainy, Screen-Free Day Together has fun and simple ways to do so!

And in case you missed it, you can find Part 1 of series on Young Children & Technology - Keep It Creative right here!

+ Inspiration/thanks goes to the screenshot of the game Mystery House, the first known graphical adventure game circa 1980, running on an Apple II computer.