UPPER EAST SIDE — It’s nearly time to go back to school, and that means it's time to wean the kids off Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga.
After a long summer of unrestricted screen time, the advent of fall means parents begin to pay more attention to their children’s use of technology. But for kids who commandeer their parents' smartphones and tablets, a transition to educational apps may be the easy answer.
To get the most educational value out of apps designed for children under 10, it’s important for parents to engage with their kids, experts say.
“Apps tend to be so much more exciting when a parent is involved and there can be this discussion that can take place on top of what the child is doing on the screen together with the parents,” said Dr. Ken Schuster, an associate neuropsychologist at the Child Mind Institute on the Upper East Side.
The discourse that can happen while a child is using the app can make the experience a much more powerful learning experience, particularly with language skills, said Rachel Cortese, a speech and language therapist who also works at the Child Mind Institute.
“Language learning is social. Them sitting in front of a screen in and of itself isn’t what’s leading to language development,” she said. “It’s really that interaction between the child and a more competent language-user that facilitates their language development.”
When choosing apps for your children, be sure to test them out ahead of time, checking for inappropriate content or in-app purchasing set-ups, which can lead to unexpected iTunes bills later on.
Leticia Barr is the founder of Tech Savvy Mama and a tech blogger for the parenting website Babble. Previously a teacher with a background in classroom technology integration, Barr says she introduces new apps to her children in a nonchalant way that makes them feel as though they are in the driver’s seat.
“As a parent, I think you need to give your kids some options,” she said. “I’ll say hey, do you want to practice your math facts with me using flashcards or using the app, and the app always wins.”
Here are some suggestions on how to get the aspirin into the applesauce with these educational apps:
For Ages 7-10
iPizza HD, $1.99
“This is an app that allows a child to build a pizza. They start by rolling the dough and then they add the sauce, the cheese, the toppings," Cortese explained. "We are talking about a step-by-step process of how you do something and this is a skill that they target in their English language classes in school as well. It’s sequencing things in a story — what comes first, what comes second, what comes next and what comes last … We can also target categories and sorting by using this app. When we’re looking at the toppings, we can talk about all the things that are fruits, all the things that are meat, all the things that are vegetables. Categories are really important for vocabulary development.”
“My son really likes a game called PopMath. I love that for him because I feel like it’s keeping him up with the basic facts,” said Barr. “I know from a teacher’s perspective, teachers want kids to just know those. Snap your fingers and know what five plus eight is and addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. PopMath is fun because there are these bubbles with the problem that float around the screen and then another bubble has the sum and kids have to pop the bubbles that match.”
Stack the States, $0.99
“It’s a really dynamic game where kids get a blank map of the U.S. and it allows them to get to know the shape of the state, facts about the state — capitals, bordering states, state flags but it’s also a puzzle because kids need to know where the state falls on the map, what states border it and the shape in order to be able to create the puzzle,” Barr said.
"Two moms wanted a place where kids could share their own opinions online and create videos," Barr explained. "The whole site is very safe for kids and parents. As a parent, I am reassured that my kid’s identity won’t be compromised. They review every piece of content on there ... I think that it’s a really great site and app because it creates a conversation in families about appropriate online behavior. I feel good that my daughter has an account on there and that when she’s interacting with others that the kids in the community keep each other in check. I see it as being a great tool to increase self-confidence and practice communication."
For Ages 4-6
LeapFrog My Robot Friend, $3.99
“I love My Robot Friend because it teaches beginning programming in a really age-appropriate way and it gets kids thinking about logic and problem solving,” said Barr. “There’s a beginning point and an end point for the robot and kids need to tell it how many steps to take, when to turn and in what direction in order to get the robot to its final destination. Certainly it hits on the science, technology, engineering and math that we want to get kids exposed to from a very young age.”
WordPlay by PicPocket Books, $0.99
“I love PicPocket books because of their engaging storybook apps that have been really interactive,” Barr said. “This latest app is different because it’s more of a word game where you combine fun found objects and you use those to create different words. Kids can form words with folded paper money or jam, which is kind of fun, kind of silly but it’s also got that learning component as well.”
For Ages 0-3
National Geographic Kids Look and Learn Alphabet, $1.99
“This app has six different activities that feature animals, really gorgeous photography that National Geographic is known for,” said Barr. “It really hits on the things that kids 0-3 need to be learning — mainly the alphabet and fine motor skills. The first-grade teacher in me loves the handwriting component because it’s very clear and easy to use even on a smart phone where the screen is smaller.”
Ed Emberley's Shake and Make, $0.99
“It’s a fun puzzle app that I think teaches fine motor coordination,” Barr said. “Kids look at the puzzle, they shake it to break it and they have to put it back together by dragging and dropping the pieces. And if the pieces don’t fall where they’re supposed to, they just go back to the bottom. There’s no negative reinforcement.”
Roller Coaster Builder, Free
Apps should have “basic stuff, colorful graphics, some animations so the child has sensory feedback, but nothing too intricate,” said Edward Yuan, founder of Dendro Kids and consultant for Insideschools.org.
“As adults, it's easy for us to lose sight that a small child doesn't care about the little minute details in the art,” he said. “The apps I liked the most are Ant Smasher and Ninja Fruit Slice for motor skills, FW Animals and for basic alphabet, Martha Speaks. My son also liked Roller Coaster Builder. But really, there are tons of really simple apps for ages 0-3 out there that can do the trick, it's a really simple age."