We hand the iPad to 4-year-olds and they can navigate between multiple apps and the games within the apps and then proceed to tell us all about what they are doing to “win” the games. Unbelievable! These little people don’t even blow their noses by themselves but can handle the sophistication of our iPads. It is no wonder why the number of children’s apps have grown exponentially over the last few years.
After using over 600 children’s educational apps I want to point out some of the characteristics of apps that really connect with our children.
First: Apps are entertaining. Bright colors, cute characters, music, voices in the app that talk to us, cheer us on, tell us to keep trying = entertaining. When I was a kid it was Math Blaster, Reader Rabbit and Oregon Trail. The sophistication has changed but what makes kids return again and again has stayed the same.
Second: The apps and devices are intuitive. The apps that are the easiest to use seem to know what our next thought is going to be. They propel us into the activity we want or answer the question we just formed. The great apps know when a task is too long and change it up to do something different.
Third: The apps kids repeatedly choose keeps them thinking and moving along a path that is engaging. The look in kids eyes show that they are completely enthralled in the activity. It’s the same look you get when lost in a good book, a video game, listening to music, watching your favorite sports team or on a long walk. The great apps are designed in a way that creates a world or a path that the child is so completely focused on that all sense of time is lost.
Fourth: The apps have unlimited patience. Parents – please do not get mad at me here. I am just admitting the fact that there are times we do not have the time or energy to do one more math problem, practice one more spelling word or explain one more time whatever the child is most interested in. Lucky for us, these apps can! The apps that patiently explain how to sound out “cat” for the 200th time are priceless.
The experience children have with apps is not so different than what any fantastic activity or toy provides. What is exciting is that we have app developers who know about how kids learn and are creating media that is showing signs of being as beneficial as Sesame Street has been.
Apps are really showing themselves to be a great teaching tool – yet, we all know there is room for improvement and further development. What I want to see next is how parents balance apps with play. I want to see how developers get children to problem solve, think critically and create something new in their apps. I want to see how teachers tie in apps to help children make amazing connections in the classroom.