What qualities should I look for in educational iPad apps for children?
I think the most important thing not to do is to choose an app for the child and then expect that they like it. If they don’t wanna use it, don’t act disappointed or even offended.
I can think of a few things that you should not look for:
- Avoid apps that set stereotypical school-like problems (e.g. algebra), unless the child has already demonstrated that he/she likes those.
- Avoid apps that patronise the child (e.g. by saying “oh you’re so clever — for a kid”).
- Avoid having expectations, as this sets the child up for failure. Don’t use the iPad to “test” the child in a way that can disappoint your expectations.
Unfortunately, when people talk about “educational” apps, they usually mean one of the above. In that sense, I find that very few “educational” apps have educational value.
That said, I think the best way to find a good app for your child is to get lots of them and let the child try them all. The only reasonable arbiter for what suits your child is your child.
If/when the child settles on a favourite app, it will almost certainly not be what you envisaged. This shouldn’t alarm you. Do not act worried that the child is doing “the wrong thing”. Instead, use the opportunity to get to know your child better :)
- Load the app as fast possible.
- Move all settings out of the app.
- No pop-ups/notifications.
- Change it up/give surprises.
- Give multiple ways to do things.
- Give hints.
- Add delays.
- Give instructions.
- Update the app.
- Highlight words and letters as you say them.
Since you've already specified that the app should be educational, I would say the next important quality should be entertaining.
The most important quality is that your child likes it. If they do not like it, playing will be a chore and no kids want to do chores.
I have two young children (1.5 and 3) and I occasionally let them play on my iPhone. My older girl seems to really like games that reward her. For instance, we have a Dora game that she never plays. Yet we have shape guessing game, which awards her with "stickers" when she gets so many right in a row. She loves that game.
Sadly, iPad apps rarely have trial versions. You really have to do your homework on them to make sure they will not merely satisfy what you are looking for; but also provide good modeling for the kids.
More and more of the edutational games are providing free/lite versions. This will give you a chance to evaluate them for yourself.
Apps are so cheap that if you can afford it... keep buying them. The value of the iPad is not the technology but the variety. Kids love variety.
Our iPad has Madden an Mystery Mansion on it and my kid would sneak off and play Mystery Mansion ahead of Madden (and he loves sports).
The only problem wih the variety is that it is easy to switch if the game gets too challenging. But don't get frustrated if it happens... more than likely what they do is go back and try again later (just like we do).