We recently conducted research which found that many children will receive electronic gifts for the holidays this year. The good news is that apps are a promising educational tool that support literacy, math, science and life skills. The challenge for parents is how to choose the right app for their child.
These tips can help guide your decision:
1. A good app is the perfect combination of education and entertainment.
When kids are engaged, they learn. Educational apps balance engagement with learning.
Whether an app is focused on teaching math skills or science, it is really important that a child has opportunities to play and do something new.
The characters will be familiar, but the game play will be new and challenging, which is a good formula for learning.
2. Explore and play with your child.
Research shows that kids learn more when parents join in the fun – this is true for all media.
Take an active role by choosing an app and deciding why it’s likely to hold your child’s attention. Don’t be bashful about playing with your child, taking turns with who gets to control the screen and select the next level.
3. Select games that are developmentally appropriate for your child.
Is the app right for your child and what they can do? Not all 4-year-olds are created equal, so different apps will appeal to different children at different times.
Ask yourself, is this a skill or storyline my child is capable of following right now?
Touch screen technology is a significant advance in technology for young children – it’s easy and intuitive for kids to navigate. For pre-readers, make sure there are audio cues and not just words on a screen.
4. Set limits and encourage other forms of learning and play.
This is about setting the right “media diet” for your child. A balanced media diet is like a balanced food diet; variety is healthier.
It’s also good to think about the number of hours your child is spending in front of screens.
One possible rule is that there is no TV until homework is done. The same rules apply to newer screens, unless the device is used for schoolwork, which is happening more and more these days.
5. Select apps from trusted, reliable sources.
Look for established, trusted educational brands that are known for producing educational content.
Are you comfortable with the app’s characters as role models for your children? Kids tend to imitate characters in the media. Make sure the characters, their language, and their behavior is something you’d be comfortable with from your own children. Also, avoid apps that could be frightening or that use violence to resolve conflicts.
Talk to other parents about the apps their children enjoy, and why. Ask them if you can test their app before you buy it for your child.
Review ratings and reviews – by other parents, and on sites like Common Sense Media – and look at the apps that have received Parent’s Choice awards.
6. Determine whether apps are trying to market to your child.
Apps labeled “lite” or “free” often attempt to make money by trying to sell virtual items while a child is playing a game, or link to another related app that requires payment to download.
Many such apps are tastefully done and sensitive to kids’ needs, but some rely on frustration as a means of driving your child to nag parents to make a purchase. Signs of this would include apps that have dead-ends or members-only content.