Finding the Right Apps for Children

A-E-I-O-U, is this the right app for you?
By Michelle Salcedo, The Sunshine House Chief Academic Officer 

A generation ago, when a child griped about being bored, a parent might send him into the yard and tell him not to come home until the streetlights came on. Today, a more popular answer to the “I’m bored” complaint is “there’s an app for that.”

In doctor’s offices, in the back seats of cars, and at restaurant tables across the nation, children are being entertained by interactive media on touch screen devices. There are a myriad of choices when it comes to “educational apps,” but it’s up to parents to determine which applications truly lead to learning, and which are just glorified flash cards. Before downloading and passing on media to your child, use the A-E-I-O-U test to evaluate quality:

  • Appropriate: Is the time involved and content of the application appropriate for your child’s age? The average child’s attention span is 1 to 2 minutes more or less than his age. Therefore, a 3-year-old’s attention span typically ranges from one to five minutes. If a 3-year-old has to spend time waiting for the app to update or advance, he will lose interest. Are the images and themes appropriate for your child’s developmental level? Adults should always preview an entire application to make sure the content is appropriate for a child’s developmental level and the family’s beliefs and values.
  • Engaging: Does the application draw your child in? Instead of having your child be a passive recipient, high quality applications will involve your child in the process. A child learns best when he is engaged in an experience. A good application will build in this sort of involvement.
  • Interactive: Children live in the here and now. It is important that any feedback they receive be immediate and relevant to the experience at hand. A high quality application will support children’s activities with responses that keep them interested and engaged.
  • Open-ended: Is there only one way to use the application, or are there choices? When a button is pushed and the same thing happens over and over, or something only happens when a child answers a question “right,” it will be easy to lose interest. A child develops critical thinking skills when he has the ability to make choices. Look for an application that incorporates opportunities for children to create the path the game takes.
  • Understandable: Is the application easy for children to understand? Is it intuitive? If a game is too complicated or the controls are too difficult to use, children will become frustrated. Strong emotions, such as anger and frustration get in the way of learning, so make sure the app is easy for your child to use with little or no help.
  • And sometimes You: we all need opportunities to have breaks from our children, but technology should not always be an excuse for you to tune out. When you and your child interact together with technology, it becomes a much more powerful learning experience.

As is true with food, television and toys, there are applications that support positive development and those that have no value at all. And at up to $5 a download, the cost of apps can quickly add up. So remember to review your A-E-I-O-Us to make sure you’re purchasing the best media for your child.