With so many apps available for preschoolers, how do I know which are the best ones to use to teach my child to read?

The best apps to teach reading share many of the same characteristics as the best apps to teach math or to teach games.  Here are some traits to look for, although you will not find each of these traits in every app.

baby looking at an iPad

To enlarge, click on the picture.

  • The app should be age or developmentally appropriate for your child.  It should seem like play but allow the child to gain self-confidence both in mastering the media and in mastering the material presented on the app.
  • The app should be interactive.  Most apps are passive, limiting a child to clicking or scrolling down, but that’s about it.  The best apps allow children to solve problems or to develop curiosity.  Some apps allow coloring, drawing lines and highlighting, with the child deciding how.
  • The app should be intuitive to use.  Using computers is often hard for preschoolers since interaction depends on mastering a mouse and a keyboard.  But pads are intuitive, allowing for swiping with a single finger to move from page to page.  Once the child tries the process a few times, he understands it.
  • The app should allow for repetition.  Young children like to have their favorite books read to them over and over.  They might also like to go to their favorite apps over and over.
  • The app should take advantage of the technology.  A book about a pet might show the word “dog,” but an app might show the printed word, offer a picture of a group of dogs wagging their tails, and create the sounds of panting and barking.
  • The app should be open-ended: divergent, not convergent.  Usually an app encourages a child to hit an icon which might be right or wrong, a dead end for the child.  But if the answer allows the child to continue in a manner she prefers, or to get to an answer in a round-about way, the child has some input into the outcome.
  • The app should extend a child’s skill or make up for a child’s shortcomings.  If a child cannot print yet, or has poor printing skills, a good app would produce the desired letters without the child needing to “write.”  Or for an ESL child or a child with speech problems, a good app might “read” the words aloud so that the child can hear the words pronounced correctly.
    child taking iPad out of toy chest

    To enlarge, click on the picture.

  • The app should be fun and engaging.  Stories should move in time order so that they are easy for a young child to follow.  There should be an obvious beginning, middle and end.  The vocabulary and sentence structure should be comfortable for the child so he gets it the first time he hears it.  The art work should make the child laugh.
  • The app should foster socialization.  Apps that store child-taken photos of a trip to the zoo allow for later sharing with preschool classmates or with family.  Apps that allow a child to film a Barbie fashion show or Grandpa snoring beg to be shared.  SKYPE allows for sharing over great distances.

Spend some time investigating apps for your young children.  Teach them how to access the apps you have selected.  And next week do it again, because the apps—like your child—are always changing.

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