“Can Apps really be Educational?”
This is a question which many parents, including myself, have asked.
Our children are growing up in a society where tablets and phones are readily available to them. Children are exposed to technology from a very young age, and we cannot escape the fact that it plays an important role in their lives. But can the apps we download onto our devices provide more than just an element of fun for our children?
The simple answer is ‘yes’, but this answer comes with a caveat. As parents, we need to be responsible for choosing the apps that we would like our children to use – preferably fun and engaging ones and, if we choose carefully, apps that provide learning opportunities as well.
The actual act of figuring out how to play a game is a learning opportunity in itself, as is mastering the tasks within. So even without any explicit educational content, our children are learning from the moment they access an app. But they can learn even more if we facilitate their app choices.
So, what are the 5 key factors to consider when choosing educational apps to support your child?
1. Is the app an appropriate level for my child?
It is best if an educational app is matched to the learning ability of the child – this is important if real learning and development is to take place. All of the apps in our ‘Good App Guide’ have the suitable age range clearly indicated (you can also sort the apps by age.)
2. Is the app fun?
Favourite apps tend to be fun and engaging, and if an app doesn’t hold a child’s attention, they are lesslikely to learn as they won’t want to continue using it. We like to recognise the importance of fun, and one educational app that definitely has the fun factor is ‘Toca Lab’ from Toca Boca. ‘Toca Lab’ is a science app that encourages children to experiment and communicate in a scientific manner.
3. Will my child be motivated to play?
Children can be motivated to learn through reward and praise, and many apps offer ‘stickers’, ‘badges’ or some other prize (such as unlocking new levels). Rewards are really good for encouraging children to carry on playing (and learning). An app for young children that does this really well is ‘Tiny Hands Sorting 1’, where children are rewarded with some engaging animations when they complete a puzzle.
4. Is the player actively engaged in the learning process?
Children need to be actively engaged if learning is to take place, so it is important to ask yourself whether this is true. Is your child encouraged to think and solve problems, or are they just watching the screen and swiping at objects? ‘Perfect Times Tables’ clearly demonstrates how an app can actively engage a child. This is a fast-paced maths app that will sharpen your child’s mental maths skills. ‘Jolly Phonics Lettersounds’ is another app that does a good job of engaging children in the learning process.
5. Are children able to apply what they have learnt?
It is also worth looking at what an app is actually trying to teach, and making sure that the children are able to apply this knowledge. For example, is the app just teaching the letters of the alphabet or is it introducing the letters, relating them to their sounds and showing how they become words? ‘Montessori Letter Sounds’ is great because it supports children with their phonic knowledge and sets them on a learning journey, from recognising letters and sounds to reading words. ‘Squeebles Maths Bingo’ is another good example that allows children to apply their times table knowledge in a fun bingo game.
As parents, I’m sure we have all wondered what previous generations did before technology was so readily available! How did our mothers’ keep us quiet while we waited for our sibling to finish their swimming lesson? And how did they cope with us on an aeroplane?
We agree that tablets and phones are an invaluable tool for keeping children entertained, but educational apps work best if there is parental input. As parents we can help our children by choosing the most beneficially rich apps, to ensure that our children are getting the most out of their screen time. It’s also good to spend time actually playing alongside our children; by doing this, we can extend learning and alter misconceptions. Children love having the attention of a parent and our time is priceless to them.
While playing apps can support your child’s learning, we recommend screen time as part of a balanced play diet. It’s so important that children also have enough time away from the screen, particularly in active, social and imaginative play. You can have a look at our tips on managing screen time.