With so many apps on the market, it can be challenging to select appropriate apps for your children that actually help them learn something_._While some apps are truly motivating and genuinely help kids learn, others claim to be educational but in reality lack any value when it comes to learning.
Below are a few guidelines to help you decide what app is right for your child:
1. Set a goal: First of all, be clear about what you would like your child to learn. Math may be too broad of a goal, and you will be left sifting through maybe hundreds of apps while looking for a particular sub-topic.Keep in mind that app sections are not consistently lined up with the national curriculum or the Common Core State Standards, so double check grade equivalents. You are best off picking a specific topic like, editing- 5th grade, adding fractions, or Ancient Egypt for kids.
2. The app should give you something that traditional methods do not: Sometimes this simply means giving your child some added motivation to make learning more fun. Many apps today even provide instant feedback on a students performance, which has been linked to improved performance across subject areas (Wiggins, 2012). Another great feature is that apps can add a new modality. For example, for math problems, apps can help your child visualize concepts or problems (e.g. fractions) to provide greater understanding. Some of the newer reading apps can actually read stories to your child, thereby enhancing your child's reading fluency (learn more about the many benefits of audiobooks on reading here).
3. Is the skill transferable to their schoolwork?: This is a key problem with many apps. You want to look at how your child is learning as well as what your child is learning. For example, many math apps have students answering questions left-to-right. In most basic math equations, when working by hand, students work right-to-left. This means that the app may not help them during class (unless you have your child work out the problem on a piece of paper, then enter it, but this inefficiency may result in decreased motivation and increased confusion).
This may sound counter-intuitive to the above post, but its not! Apps should go beyond paper-and-pencil to help the child learn, but also teach them how to think in a way that allows them to answer paper-and-pencil questions.
4. Increased difficulty: The best apps adapt to your child's strengths and needs. With certain skills, repetition is a plus, but most of the time, your child will develop proficiency over time, so you want an app that will have increasing levels of difficulty. For example, some multiplication drill games will remove multiplication problems by two if your child consistently gets those correct, and re-ask questions that your child previously answered incorrectly.
5. Optional: customizability: Everyone is different! Apps that give you some customizable options to play up your child's strengths and address their needs will produce the greatest benefits. Some apps with great customizability are not very user-friendly, so feel free to ask a teacher or another education professional for help. There are also apps that provide a diagnostic level, where they figure out what skill level your child is at and go from there. Then, the customization is done for you!
About the author: Jules Csillag, BA, MS, CCC-SLP is a licensed speech-language pathologist and learning specialist who works in New York City. She is passionate about technology, special education, and alternative education.