Picking Good Apps
Dear Mr. Dad: A few months ago you talked about limiting screen time for toddlers and the importance of picking good quality games for when we do allow screen time. There seem to be in infinite number of choices out there. How on earth do we know what to pick?
A: There are literally hundreds of thousands of educational smartphone- or tablet-based apps aimed at kids. Product sellers in the various app stores will assure you that their app will make you rich and your child smarter, taller, and more beautiful. However, just because an app is being sold by a big-name company, like Apple, Google, or Amazon, is hardly a guarantee that it’s (a) educational, (b) high quality, and/or (c) appropriate for your child. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind, some of which were suggested by Stamatios Papadakis and Michail Kalogiannakis, from the University of Crete; Heather Kirkorian, from the University of Wisconsin; and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, from Temple University, and her colleagues.
- The app should have a clearly stated objective and purpose. Will it help your child learn letters? Shapes? Colors? Numbers? Animals? AP calculus?
- Information and lessons must be meaningful and relevant to the child (otherwise, honestly, what’s the point?). For example, if a game is teaching about shapes, it should go beyond simply identifying a triangle among a bunch of circles and squares. Instead, it should point out how various shapes show up in the real world (square and rectangular windows and books, round balls, holes in toilet-paper tubes and wheels, triangular trees, and so on).
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