I have accumulated a short of list of app features that I feel are most appropriate for a successful learning experience.
Having played with countless educational apps for kids, I have shared about these features through this blog, as well as list of features I’d like to see occur more often. I’m sharing these with you here so that you know what to look for when choosing an educational app for your child.
Breaking Down the App Features
Settings for Appropriate Leveling
Kids tend to lose interest when they have to go through levels that are too easy to finally get to the part of the game that is right for them. When apps are being used in the classroom or for home learning, it is important that both parents and teachers are able to set the app according to the child’s needs easily and quickly. One way to do this is to look for an initial assessment of placement that goes beyond the student’s age or grade to ensure proper placement within the app. In addition, listing the skills the child is able to practice in the game helps parents and teachers easily set up the game to engage the student. You should expect this type of customization when using technology with children.
If you are looking for an app for children in second grade and below, narration should be a feature. At these ages, kids are generally not fluent readers. Giving the option to have the text read increases success and motivation to keep using the app. Directions or introductions should be read aloud to the child with the text highlighted as the narration occurs. I recommend that apps for older students have the option for them to tap to hear the text read aloud. Giving this choice creates a nice balance between encouraging independent reading and providing support. Children who are English language learners or who are on a lower reading level benefit from speech support.
More Than Questions to Answer
Learning is more than recalling information. There are a lot of popular apps have children answer factual questions but do not utilize other skills, such as creativity or problem solving skills. Instead of having kids focus their energy on activities to memorize and recall information quickly, add in activities that promote depth of understanding, creativity, critical thinking, real-world applications, or problem solving. Creating a virtual model, making a recording, playing a strategic game, or building something new are all ways to add depth.
Good Music AND a Mute Button
The music in the app should be more than eight bars that repeat. Kids may not balk at the repetitive electronic background music, but it’s fair to say they don’t always enjoy it, and I’m fairly certain you don’t, either. Quiet, melodic music produces a pleasant and calm energy, something that both you and your child will enjoy. The mute button should be obvious as well so that you can easily turn the sound off.
A Settings or Parent Page That Locks Everything That Isn’t Part of the Child’s Activity
In-app purchases don’t trouble me as much as they do many other reviewers, parents, and teachers because I have seen them done very effectively. What I do find distracting are ads, pop-ups, links, social media, or other unrelated visual components that distract the learning in the “kids’ space.” My suggestion is make sure these are locked up on a page that is only accessible by someone who knows how to multiply or follow advanced touch directions. (Remember, though, that children learn to multiply between ages 6-9, so if the app targets that age group, there should be another method to access the locked area.)
Bonus Material on the Settings Page
Inside the Settings section, you should be able to find valuable tools to help your child navigate the app. For example, helpful settings include the ability to check a child’s progress or customize the material, bonus material, and tips for how to extend the learning away from the app.
Accurate Information about the App
The app should focus on the content and skills it consistently promotes instead of skills it doesn’t primarily offer. Just because you have one small problem solving game in the app doesn’t mean it should be marketed as a problem solving app. Be cautious when reading the claims a developer makes about its app. Trusted review services, such as KinderTown provide an unbiased option about the educational features found in the app.
Good Flow to the App
Kids lose focus when they are encouraged to jump around between pages or have to tap Back buttons three times. Within the app, the buttons should be easily designed for going back and forth between pages, using home icons or arrows, for example. These icons help non-readers to navigate the app independently. If the app contains interactivity, make sure it is relevant to the content. If there are have hot spots or interactivity, make sure it is relevant to the content. If kids are practicing their letters, the app should avoid meaningless interactions such as having them tap the cow and listen to it moo over and over again. A more relevant interactivity would include saying the correct letter name and sound. Additionally, the app should lead kids in the direction they should go in the app. Offering too many choices means there may be less focus on the direct activity in which the child should be engaged.
Thoughtful Feedback to Support All Learning
If the app only provides positive feedback for the right answers, kids are not able to practice learning from their mistakes. The app should use incorrect answers as part of the learning process. For example, there should be a visual aid to help comprehend a math problem, such as a grid that coordinates with the multiplication problem. The activities should be structured to have a broader learning goal. Kids love challenge and will spend much more time on an app that delivers an engaging experience. Providing challenge in a structured, supportive environment will be an ultimate win for the child and his learning experience.
Overall the app market has become very competitive, and only apps with the greatest features and child-friendly design tend to make it to the top. Use these features as guidelines to help you choose the best apps for your children and trust KinderTown to help you find the apps that meet these criteria.