Many educators and parents are searching for educational apps that provide the best virtual environment for learning to take place. Generally, this means apps that deliver meaningful content with an in-depth experience incorporating discovery and challenge.
These apps are often “free-play” or “choice-filled” games that encourage kids to engage in their own learning. Apps that integrate depth of content and choice empower learners and construct understanding. These apps have activities designed to support the child as they progress and master tasks. This keeps your child in the ideal zone for learning , building on past concepts and challenging them to try something new. Feedback is often provided for parents or teachers through email to let you know how your child is progressing.
However, a lot of educational apps don’t fit this ideal or only offer one of the types of learning experiences listed above. Often they don’t offer children independent choices, and they stay on the surface of educational subjects instead of diving into deep thinking. Is there value in these types of apps, or should parents and teachers not use them? Just because an app doesn’t meet the ideal doesn’t mean there isn’t value in the other experiences. Completing math drills, reviewing grammar skills, or playing puzzle games can support your child’s overall development, too.
To help me make sense of the different types of educational apps and the learning experiences they provide, I have created 7 overlapping categories. Sounds like a lot? It is. Keep in mind that many apps fit into two or three different categories because each provides something a little different to a child’s learning experience.
Breaking Down the 7 Categories
1. Playful Learning
These are the apps that I tend to enjoy the most. They are silly, funny, and open-ended. Just because the educational content doesn’t take the center stage doesn’t mean that your child isn’t learning through play. Play is primary mode of learning for most young children. These apps mirror the free play your child enjoys at home, such as pretending in the kitchen, driving trucks, building with blocks, or playing dress-up. You want these educational apps for your kids because they encourage creativity and lead to more creative, playful experiences away from the app. For example, after playing with a virtual science lab for kids, my daughter asked if she could freeze soap bubbles to see what would happen to the solution. Good examples of this type of app would be the apps made by Toca Boca and Dr. Panda. Try out Toca Lab for a playful science lab your children will love!
When reviewing an eBook for educational content, not just a good read, I look for the experience to encourage learning through listening and observation. eBooks that use meaningful interactivity (not just tap to see what happens) for extra practice and play also fall into this category. It is always exciting to find stories that use interactivity to connect learning experiences and vocabulary to real life. Your child benefits from hearing stories read aloud in order to develop vocabulary, an understanding of story lines, and a love of books, especially during the pre-reading years. Auryn HD- Teddy’s Day, Cinderella by Nosy Crow, and Goodnight Moon are some of my family’s favorites.
These apps usually generate a question and ask the child to choose between three or four choices. I wouldn’t encourage this kind of app for play time, but why not use them for homework and extra practice? Especially if you are replacing the time your child is spending with sheets of paper and pencils, the use of these apps can have many more benefits. They’re great for fluency, test prep, and direct one-step content practice. Be present when your child uses this type of app because often they can choose the wrong answer several times, which creates a less beneficial learning experience. Try out Todo Math and Bluster! Deluxe as examples of workbook/worksheet types of educational apps.
4. Puzzles and Traditional Games
There are now many puzzle, memory, matching, and other classic early learning games available in app form. These apps have the potential to support cognitive development in the same way as traditional games, such as encouraging reasoning skills through a game of Go Fish or developing spatial skills through a classic puzzle. I still believe it is beneficial to dust off the traditional puzzles once in a while, but these apps are really fun for kids, too. There are extra benefits of developing social skills when they include multiple children. Try these apps made for more than one child.
5. Theme Experiences
These apps let your child delve into themes that really interest them. If your child can’t get enough of dinosaurs, why not grab a few dinosaur apps and let them explore? This is similar to going to the library and grabbing a few books. Your child is absorbing so much of their passion that it is hard to keep up, so include iPad apps in their quest for new knowledge. Check out the Science and Social Studies categories in KinderTown to find apps that correlate to your child’s current interests. Barefoot World Atlas, appropriate for ages 4-8, and Geography Drive USA, ages 6-8, are favorites in my house.
6. Interactive Encyclopedias
This one is easy – you get to see videos and images and even play games right in the app. Do I need to say more? These are beneficial because your child is exploring topics of interest. For example, if your child is struggling with understanding the life cycle of plants, an app like this might be the way to make the connections to the content they need. ABC Aquarium is an excellent example of this type of app, appropriate for the youngest learners.
7. BYOC for Kids – Build Your Own Content
These apps are less game-like in structure and have more of an open design that allow kids to create their own unique activities from scratch. The benefit of these apps is building what you want instead of only using pre-made offerings. Create your own machine, design your own work of art, or build a virtual world. These apps are beneficial for parents who want to create a special experience for their child above and beyond traditional learning. Try out Pettson’s Inventions Deluxe, Faces iMake – Premium!, and Toca Builders for engaging experiences that are sure to tempt you to jump in and create alongside your child.
A variety of app options provide an opportunity to search for what is going to suit each child best. There is much more out there than the “gold standard” that gives a valuable learning experience for your child. KinderTown can help you discover the latest and best educational apps for your child.