New mobile devices like iPhones, iPads and Android phones now allow young children unprecedented access to a range of apps. Many of these apps are marketed as ‘educational’ but it is interesting to note that there is no rigorous screening process in the iTunes app store to ascertain whether an app constitutes an ‘educational’ app, or whether the developer has simply included the app in this category to gain popularity with parents and early childhood teachers.
A recent analysis conducted by Carly Shuler from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center in the US found that 58% of the apps in the Education category in iTunes target toddler and preschool children. There has been a 23% increase in the number of apps designed specifically for preschoolers in the Education category from 2009 to 2011. When you consider that there are currently over 650 000 apps (June 2012) available in the iTunes App Store alone (the Android market has slightly less), this represents a HUGE number of apps specifically designed for young children. No wonder parents and early childhood teachers feel overwhelmed and bamboozled when searching for apps for young children. So what should early childhood teachers and parents of young children be looking for in an educational app for preschoolers?
What to consider when selecting apps for preschoolers?
- Does it allow for CREATIVITY and SELF-EXPRESSION? Is the app open-ended enough that children can experiment and test their own ideas? Can the user create drawings or record music or record their voice. Some suggested apps that allow preschoolers to do this are: Draw and Tell (Duck Duck Moose), Felt Board (by David Douglas), My Story,- Book Maker for Kids (by HiDef Web Solutions LLC)., Princess Fairytale Maker (by Duck Duck Moose) and Drawing Pad (by Darren Murtha).
- Limit the use of ‘drill-and-practice’ type apps. Preschoolers have plenty of time to rote-learn skills and learn to add and subtract and read and write. So keep the use of ‘drill-and-practice’ apps to a minimum with preschoolers. Many of the apps currently available for preschoolers fall into this category and the quality between them is vast. Some quality ‘drill-and-practice’ apps are: rED Writing- Learn to Write (by Rogue Mobile), LetterSchool (by Borbeaal b.v), Write My Name by Injini (by NCsoft), Motion Math: Hungry Fish (by Motion Math) and Park Math HD-by Duck Duck Moose.
- Select apps that COMPENSATE for preschoolers’ emerging READING and FINE MOTOR skills. For example, too much written text is confusing for preschoolers. Instead look for apps that allow preschoolers to click on text to have the word or the instruction read aloud. Some examples of this are: the Dr Seuess books (by Ocean House Media), PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit (by Loud Crow Interactive). Also, apps that require intricate fine motor skills (like clicking on a small target) are not appropriate for preschoolers. There are many apps that compensate for preschoolers’ developing literacy skills and even develop their fine motor skills. Some age-appropriate titles include: Bugs and Buttons (by Little Bit Studio, LLC) and Dexteria: Fine Motor Skill Development (by BinaryLabs, Inc).
- Look for apps that develop LANGUAGE SKILLS. There is an abundance of research that shows that young children need plenty of opportunities to develop their language skills to be successful learners. New touch technologies provide rich opportunities to develop these skills, if the right types of apps are selected AND if young children are encouraged to use apps with other children or adults. It is important to note, that these apps should not replace quality interactions with other children and adults without screens. Some appropriate apps that develop preschoolers’ language skills are: Playschool Art Maker (by ABC).
- Look for apps that allow the child to BECOME PART of the APP. There are many apps that now allow the child to use the iPad or iPhone’s built-in camera. Popular examples of these apps for preschoolers are- Out A-Bout (by Fred Rogers Center) and Flat Stanley (by Flatter World Inc).
- Look for apps that allow the child to DISCOVER NEW INFORMATION that would otherwise not be possible or may be difficult to obtain for young children. For example, X is for X-Ray (by Touch Press LLP) and Bobo Explores Light (Game Collage, LLC).