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Choosing Quality Educational Apps for Kids

posted on July 19, 2012

Choosing Quality Educational Apps for Kids

As kids become more tech-savvy in today's world of mobile devices, parents can find themselves overwhelmed with choices and unsure how to judge what’s appropriate for their kids. Iowa Public Television's educators, in conjunction with PBS Parents, offer tips to help guide parents' decisions when selecting educational and appropriate mobile applications (apps) for their kids.

"When kids are engaged, they learn," said Terry Rinehart, director of educational services at Iowa Public Television. "Apps on mobile devices make that kind of engagement possible, allowing today's 'digital natives' to learn in a world their parents couldn't imagine. The challenge for parents is to find apps they can trust to help their kids learn while keeping them safe."

CNN recently reported that four of the top 10 best-selling educational iPhone apps are designed for children under the age of 5.  With so many choices available, parents can feel overwhelmed.

Apps can be effective learning tools when used with parental involvement for education. Research findings on the effectiveness of apps as educational tools can be found at

Suggestions for selecting apps include:

  • Apps should combine education and entertainment. Educational apps balance engagement with learning, providing children with opportunities to play and do something new.
  • Parents should explore and play with their children. Research shows that kids learn more when parents join in the fun – something that’s true for all media. Parents are encouraged to take an active role by choosing an app and taking turns with who gets to control the screen.
  • Developmentally appropriate games are important. Not all 4-year-olds are created equal, so different apps will appeal to different children at different times. Parents should ask themselves, "Is this a skill or storyline my child is capable of following right now?" before proceeding.
  • Setting limits and encouraging other forms of learning and play are key. Parents should consider setting the right "media diet" for their children. A balanced media diet is like a balanced food diet – variety is healthiest.
  • Determine whether apps are trying to market to your children. Apps labeled "lite" or "free" often attempt to make money by trying to sell virtual items while a child is playing a game. Many such apps are tastefully done and sensitive to kids' needs, but some rely on frustration as a means of driving children to nag parents to make a purchase.

PBS KIDS offers families plenty of educational and appropriate apps for tech-savvy youngsters, including:

  • Super Why! (Reading, ages 3+) – Help children gain the power to read with four unique games featuring Super Why and the Super Readers.
  • D.W’s Unicorn Adventure (Nutrition, ages 4+) – It’s D.W. to the rescue! Help Arthur’s little sister save a lost unicorn using the power of rainbow foods.
  • Dinosaur Train Camera Catch! (Math, ages 3+) – Kids can become ace photographers and help take pictures of flying dinosaurs in just the right pattern.
  • Martha Speaks Dog Party (Vocabulary, ages 4+) – This app features four games designed to boost oral vocabulary, as kids train and play dress-up with characters from Martha Speaks.
  • Sid’s Science Fair (Science, ages 3+) – this app encourages kids to explore and classify collections in three math and science games with Sid and friends from Sid the Science Kid.

A complete list of kid-friendly apps offered by PBS KIDS is available at

Tags: digital devices education educators games iPad apps iPhone apps online media parents PBS Kids pbs kids go preschool preschool games teachers



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