There’s no point asking whether they should use them or not- it’s too late for that. Most kids these days from about age 5 know what a tablet is, and can navigate pretty well around the apps. They can show many of us oldies what to do when we get stuck, and can function pretty well- amazingly well to be honest. And currently tablets are being used in schools for children as young as 5, by teachers trained to maximise their potential.
Generally that’s all fine- research has shown that limited time on a tablet does no harm to a child; the opposite in fact. You only have to read about the charity Onebillion, or the project “One Laptop per Child” or “The School in the Cloud” to see that technology is being used in the classroom from a very early age, and with positive and successful outcomes. In the current classroom context, we can see how digital devices can be used to support the development of core skills like literacy and maths, and how digital apps can provide an engaging, stimulating and creative way of promoting children’s learning.
The key word in the above sentence is CAN. Apps can help learning and encourage all the good skills we want our kids to have. But we are all still a bit skeptical about what is out there, and with good reason. For the handful of good apps available there are a million bad ones- or at least not good ones… I wouldn’t say that they are all bad, so as a parent we should worry that the content our children are seeing on a tablet is appropriate. The problem is where to start?
Here are some key questions you can ask when deciding whether an app is or isn’t appropriate for a child’s educational purposes:
- What skills and experiences does the app facilitate? Open-ended apps are likely to offer creative opportunities, especially those which enable children to develop their skills incrementally through images, video, text and sounds.
- Does the app strike a judicious balance between entertainment and learning? The potential of apps is the greatest when flexibility and creativity are maximised for children, so they can, for instance, create their own personalised stories.
- Does the app help to build and sustain relationships and encourage children to engage with each other? For example, good story-making apps are those which engage the child in story sharing and learning about others through their discussions and interactions.
We can think about the 10 best books for children, the 10 best films. But can we name the 10 best websites? The 10 best apps? I think it’s time we did.