Our feature this week is written by Jane Scarano of Staytoooned, who offers insights on an “app review” session with her granddaughter. Throughout most of 2010, our articles at Moms With Apps have shown readers the diversity of family-friendly apps available. Moving into 2011, you’ll see us become more discerning about the educational value exhibited in apps. Jane’s insights are timed well as we focus on more discussions about what makes an app “educational”.
With the huge influx of educational apps today, where do parents begin when selecting an educational app for their child? The educational app category is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing categories in the app store. With thousands of apps to choose from, parents are looking for new ways to discover an app that has education value.
Should you use keywords, search the highest ranking apps in the education category, or read reviews? For the past few days, I focused on preschool apps and downloaded several apps with my three year old granddaughter, Julia. We went shopping together in the App Store and I had her search for apps that looked appealing to her. Some apps were paid and some were free. We set up a system of rating the apps based on her attention span and educational value. Here is what we came up with.
Apps that spoke to her through music and came to life through animation and interactivity were her favorites. These kept her entertained by singing along and processing the purpose of the app.
Rewards played a huge role in evaluating these apps. Julia’s face lit up when she completed a task successfully and received a virtual reward. This encouraged her to play more and receive more rewards. This became a form of virtual positive reinforcement that kept her engaged.
Remember, most preschoolers cannot read. Kids need to be part of the process when it comes to playing with an app. Instructions must be short and not too complex. Wording should be simple. Audio instructions allowed Julia to jump right in and start learning. Clear instructions promote learning and eliminate confusion and frustration.
Length of Activity
Overly complex apps with too many activities turned her off. She seemed to gravitate to the apps that were simple and stimulating. She especially liked the activities that were a maximum of three distinct activities. This offered her variety, but helped her focus on the task and educational value. As a change of pace, she especially enjoyed storybook apps that contained creative animation and music. This kept her on track longer than the traditional sequential activities of most apps.
Age Appropriate Apps
Hundreds of books have been written trying to define exactly what “age appropriate” means. For our purposes let’s rely on your experience as the parent of your child. Apps that teach number or letter recognition are great for 2 and 3 year olds. The same child is not ready for math problems with multiplication and division. This is what we mean by age appropriate. Take a look at the tasks involved. Are they things your child is capable of learning right now? Look at the vocabulary. Does your child recognize the words used for instructions and the game activities?
Don’t forget to assess the difficulty of the app format itself. A two year old can easily tap a picture on the screen. They will have difficulty dragging a number or object across the screen, especially if the object is very small.
Static Flash Cards vs Rich Multi-Media Experience
An educational mobile app should be more than just a flash card. Rote learning activities without reinforcement, lasted only a few minutes with Julia. These were the apps that she would say, “I don’t like it”.
Our app shopping experience turned out to be a real world experiment of determining what appeals to a three year old. Our shopping spree helped both of us narrow down which apps were worth investing in. My advice to parents searching for high quality apps for their kids is to research apps with trailers on YouTube, read reviews by mobile app bloggers and take advantage of the promotions and promo codes available to readers of sites like Moms With Apps.