Playing with technology: Interactive Apps for learning
Using Apps to help a child's early development
Technology is everywhere, and we know it can be a blessing and a curse at times with kids. As a result, many parents of preschoolers seek guidance for choosing what their kids watch and do. As a speech-language pathologist working with young children and as a parent of a 4-year-old and 16-month-old, I know the draw that screens have for all kids. Plenty of information is available about pros and cons of screen time, and every family’s journey is different. We can all agree however, that technology is a powerful tool. The trick is finding how best to wield it.
We know that play is a crucial part of children’s early development. It helps children build connections, learn, and remember. Some of the key qualities we look for in play include are they: engaging, interactive, enriching, and fun! It encourages creativity and problem solving, and the highest levels of preschoolers’ play are imaginative and story-based. So let’s explore how we can ensure these qualities apply to play when it involves a screen:
1.Open-ended – Look for Apps that are open-ended and allow for tinkering and experimenting. Kids can develop critical thinking skills by making guesses, trying it out, and then trying again in a different way.
2.People and places – Look for Apps that have characters and common places. These features allow children to “play a story” by creating characters and talking about what they do and go through. This can also be an outlet for children to role-play something they’ve gone through themselves, like a trip to the dentist or winning a soccer game.
3.Play partner – Some developers have created Apps that act as a third party in the child’s play. For example a birthday party App includes the table set-up and party favors on the screen. To play, children simply place their tablet between them and pass out their virtual plates and cupcakes. Conversations and interactions can happen just as they would with real toys.
4.Cooperate and communicate – Choose Apps that are easy to interact with and talk about, rather than those that involve passively watching, clicking, or swiping. For example, Apps in which you build, decorate, or create are great for taking turns and talking about what you’re making. Other apps let you create videos or simple animations to show others.
5.Simply visual – By their nature, Apps are colorful and visual. But also consider choosing Apps for their simplicity. Visual distractors like ads, pop-up boxes for in-app purchases, and constantly changing screens can make it hard for the brain to get into a focused mode for learning.
Regardless of the Apps you choose, many times the most critical element of playing with technology is the other people we play with. Watch as your kids play, but take your turn too! Talk to them about what you notice, ask questions about how they made it work, or show them something they may not have thought of previously.
Mr. Rogers once said, “Play is really the work of childhood.” In order for children to continue the work of learning and growing they need to be able to play, even if a screen is included. The key is to join in and play with them!
- Read more on the AAP’s recommendations for screen time
- Find Apps reviewed by educators
- Browse the best free Apps for preschoolers
Lori Cochran M.S. CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist at Cook Children's. Speech/language pathologists focus on oral motor, speech, language and communication skills to enhance development, restore function and to prevent disability from pediatric conditions, illness or injury.