Appropriate apps for kids
As the summer holidays draw near in many parts of the world, parents should not be surprised if children choose to fill their days with technology. After all, teens and tweens are now spending more hours on their devices – iPads, phones and computers – than they do sleeping. Anxious parents will point out how bad this technology obsession is for young people. Too much screen time has been linked to falling grades, impeded social interaction and a lack of exercise.
But there is a flip side. Several studies support technology’s positive influence on young users, saying it offers exciting opportunities for learning and can strengthen interpersonal relationships.
In the same way that some food is healthy and other food lacks nutritional benefits, some apps are low in mental fibre.
Based on my own research into how students learn with technology, here is a guide to getting rid of “junk” apps and ensuring your tweens and teens develop healthy tech habits during term time as well as the school holidays.
From passive to active
The key lies in shifting children from using apps that make them passive content consumers to appropriating those that encourage them to be active content producers.
Using activating apps can help children to develop a wide range of 21st-century skills such as collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving.
Before I look at apps that will actively engage kids during school holidays, here are the “apps” you should immediately delete from their lives.
Apprehension: feelings of inadequacy, caused by social media;
Approval: the dangerous pursuit of digital validation through “likes” and “followers”;
Apathy: the increasing desire to passively consume content; and
Once these “apps” are deleted, you can move on to the following selection of apps. They will not only engage your kids, but also help them to develop the abovementioned skills.
I have selected a few iOS, Android and web-based apps, all of which are accessible through a browser on any device. The full list is available here. I have grouped these according to the skills that children will develop. the danger of isolation that technology can
Activating apps Curation:
Curation apps help kids to develop key skills such as reading, categorising and organising.
Pinterest (iOS/Android/web): This popular visual pinboard is great for creating collections of images. How about a pinboard of Disney characters?
Learning Lab (web): This site, created by the Smithsonian Institution in the US, allows kids to curate museum artefacts.
List.ly (web): Creates fun, shareable lists of websites, videos and more from the web. How about starting with a list of all the places you want to visit? There is a shift from learning through content consumption to learning through conversation about
content in online spaces. Conversation-based apps provide opportunities to debate, discuss and enrich relationships.
Maily (iOS/Android): A parent-controlled app, it allows kids to create fun messages with drawings and text.
Playkids Talk (Android): This instant messaging app is for primary school kids. With their parents’ permission, kids can send instant messages – including photos, voice recordings and graphics – to one another.
Research shows that one of the most effective ways of learning is through mistakes. Technology allows us to easily experiment, make mistakes and learn through correction.
Scribblenauts (iOS/Android): Enables kids to bring any object to life simply by typing its name. These objects are then used to solve fun problems.
Kahoot! (web/iOS/Android): A gamified take on quizzes that makes learning – and mistakes – lots of fun. You can create your own quiz, or try one of the thousands already created. This is a great way to get a group of kids – and adults – learning and laughing together.
Creation: Creating content develops key skills such as logic, creative thinking and problem solving.
Book Creator (Android/iOS): Enables kids to create books using their own photos, videos and so on. The final book can be published on the Google Play store or iBooks.
Monster Physics (iOS): Enables kids to build working contraptions using a range of parts such as wheels, rockets and magnets. Once the contraption is built, kids can test it to see how it works.
Scratch (web/iOS/Android): A powerful way to teach kids creative thinking and logic is through programming. The Scratch environment – a visual programming language developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, called MIT Scratch – is designed to let kids learn to program in a fun, easy way.
Learning to make sense of too much missing and conflicting information is a skill that children increasingly need to develop in our content-excessive world.
Word clouds (web): These are a great way to distil large amounts of text into fascinating visual representations. Worditout allows kids to easily create a word cloud from any piece of text. How about creating a word cloud of the news or a famous speech?
Mindmaps are useful to help organise your thinking. Corkulous (iOS) provides a fun corkboard spin on this concept for kids.
Kids can sometimes be overwhelmed or bored by content, but they always enjoy cartoons. Rather than watch or read to them, let your kids create cartoons with toondoo.com or animations with Powtoon.com. How about asking them to create a cartoon that summarises their year?
Chaos: Keeping track
No matter which apps your kids choose, keep track of their use. Research suggests that screen time should be limited, whether young users are consuming “junk” apps or learning while they swipe. OurPact is a great tool to automate this process. It lets parents set usage schedules or turn off a device at any time. Blewett is senior lecturer in education and technology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The article first appeared in
INTELLIGENT PLAY Apps that encourage kids to be active content producers are ideal