Parents and teachers have long been given advice on books that can help children learn, but no such help is offered when it comes to apps. The bad news is that final recommendations can take a long time to come. The good news, however, is that we already know a few things about the apps that can help you choose for yourself.
Prices including Booktrust Best Book Award and the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal produce shortlists, often compiled by children’s literacy experts, that can help parents and educators navigate the crowded book market. There are also the best book lists compiled by booksellers, teachers Where children.
While there are international awards for apps, they don’t provide the same service. Parents and educators are therefore left to fend for themselves when looking in the Digital Wild West applications. Which are the best for helping children learn to read? What is good for numbers? Who is wasting their time?
With thousands of apps available in a large global market, teachers would also welcome some lists of officially recognized apps that are aligned with curriculum goals.
Apps scale much faster than books, which means it’s perfectly possible for an educational feature to disappear from update to update.
It would help if we actually knew what those beneficial characteristics were in the first place, of course. There is a lack of research-based and empirically validated criteria for what makes an application educationally useful. Some research is emerging slowly, but it will be years before researchers can confidently identify the short- or long-term benefits or pitfalls of specific application features.
In the meantime, there are some things you can do on your own.
First, think about what activity, skill or experience you want to enrich and how an app might fit into that activity. If you’ve found a drawing app, for example, think about how it encourages creativity. Does the app have open drawing possibilities, allowing the child to mix and match colors and add more advanced designs? Open applications are likely to offer more creative opportunities than those based on models.
If you are choosing from a range of apps that support the same activity, follow a few general rules such as apps that facilitate interactive and shared engagement, creativity, or personalization. If you are unsure of your choices, discuss them with other parents, teachers, and the children themselves. There are good online support networks, with several teachers and parents regularly publish app reviews online.
It is also good to consider whether the application enriches the offline version of an activity. If a playback application is linked to audiobooks, for example through a QR Code, this might make it more useful, or if a number app encourages a child to count real objects as well as digital objects, its benefits might extend beyond the time spent actually using it. For physical activity, an app can teach a child about balance and then suggest they go balance on something in their house or garden.
And finally, the best apps for kids are the ones that are not just about the user, but others as well. They should encourage your child to engage with others. For example, good storytelling apps are those that engage the child, not only in creating stories, but also in sharing stories and learning from others through their stories.
Apps can cause a lot of anxiety for parents and teachers. For many, digital learning and play is a new world. Developers make big promises on educational value and often design their products with the goal of getting users hooked. However, you won’t miss the opportunities offered by apps as long as you choose wisely, using your life experiences and drawing on the expertise of those around you.