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How to choose smart apps for kids

December 20, 2013

Photo by Leonardo Augusto Matsuda / Creative Commons

Image Credit: Photo by Leonardo Augusto Matsuda / Creative Commons

In this fast-changing, high-tech world it can be overwhelming to sort through the hundreds of Apps out there for kids. How do you tell the ones that are simply designed to be mind-numbing entertainment from those that actually build your child’s brain?

Thousands of educational Apps cover science, math, foreign languages and reading. Children can manipulate math equations with just a touch of a finger. They can dissect a virtual frog in one App and visit an art museum in the next.

Lilla Dale McManis, research director of Hatch Early Childhood, says that it is very difficult to recommend specific Apps because  the list would be obsolete before it was read. In general terms, for an App to be considered educational, its content should be based on research and professional educator standards, with abundant opportunities for a child to fully learn the concepts.

Parents can learn to be App reviewers themselves by visiting the listed websites below. They need to know what they and their children are interested in and follow basic guidelines. Dr. Cynthia Chiong, educational media researcher and founder of A Matter of App blog, reviews and rates educational Apps in four areas :

1)    Developmental Appropriateness: The apps are rated for appropriateness based on the content, relevance to what the child may already be learning at home and/or in school, and the type of motor skills needed (i.e., swiping, drag and drop).

2)    Balance: Apps need to present a good balance of features that are engaging, yet not too distracting. An unbalanced app means that it has too many features that may end of distracting the child from the actual content, or it means that it is devoid of such features causing the app to be possibly unappealing and boring to the child.

3)   Sustainability: The apps are rated for their potential to keep the child motivated and engaged. Does the app provide incentives, rewards, fresh content and goals?

4)    Parental Involvement: Although most apps do not explicitly have a role for parents, it is important for parents to stay involved. Apps should be viewed as another opportunity for parents to interact with their child rather than as something that can occupy their child during car rides or waiting for soccer practice (although there is nothing wrong with that). Parents can help teach and reinforce the material.

The Moms with apps website gives parents some tips for choosing and downloading apps for their children. Parents can try out the free apps and learn why are they free. It’s important to understand why an app is free before you download it. Is it ad supported? Is it free to download, but with In App Purchases? Is it on sale? Is it no longer being updated? Is it a loss leader for a larger brand? All of these scenarios are possible, and it’s helpful to know where you stand as a consumer before you get caught by surprise.

Before letting your child get engaged with an application make sure you know all about it, as you would with any other toy that your child will play with.