What Apps Are Best for This Age and Stage?

A child&s ability to interact with an app should be an important part of your decision.
By Gail Lovely
May 16, 2015



May 16, 2015

Sometimes we choose apps because we know our child loves a character or a topic. Other times we choose them because they are experimenting with something away from the tablet, like finger painting, and we find something similar on a tablet. Maybe a mother in a playgroup or a blogger suggests an app, so you check it out. In any of these scenarios, a child's ability to interact with the app should be an important part of your decision. There are hundreds of apps about "The Three Little Pigs," but which might be right for your child? As parents and educators, we know that no two children develop in the same way. It is important to keep in mind your child's development as you select and use an iPad or tablet together.
Children develop their eye-hand coordination as they grow. Think about a youngster who waves his hand around, hits a rattle that makes a sound that interests him, and then he seems more determined to hit it again. These basic movements with intention are basic requirements to using an interactive tablet like an iPad. We do not support the use of tablets as passive devices. If your child is merely staring at an interesting screen full of bright lights and colors we think there are better choices for activities. When your child begins to reach with intention, shows the beginnings of understanding actions and reactions, then your child is ready to use a tablet with you in interactive ways.
To help you select apps that match each stage of your child's eye-hand coordination, we have condensed the stages most children grow through into just a few categories. Look for these developmental icons in our upcoming blog articles. Think about these stages when choosing apps for your child.

"Slappers" are little ones who are waving or slapping at the tablet with the intention of making something happen. The best apps for children who are slapping without a lot of control are open-ended and have no right or wrong action. Bubble popping, paint splattering, and some musical instrument apps are perfect for "slappers."

Pointers and Tappers            
When your child is beginning to point at things, then a whole new range of actions and interactions on a tablet become accessible. A child who points at things like his toy, a bit of food on his plate, or you can interact with you and a tablet with more intention and specific direction. At first, some children will point without touching the screen, but it doesn't take long for them to realize that a point which touches the screen causes something to happen: music, animations, and your supportive response. Apps for children who are pointing and tapping need to have large "targets" for beginning pointers and can offer more precise targets for more adept "tappers." Apps that are great for "pointers" and "tappers" might be sound apps, like a drum app, or reactive apps where a touch sets off an action.

Sago Mini Music Box
Every little tap makes a note to "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" or "Row, Row, Row, Your Boat" and adds a bit more to the charming scenes on the screen. Let your children just make things happen -- maybe they will discover they are making the notes to a song. You can sing along, help your little one tap the rhythm, or just explore both visuals and music together. (iOS, Kindle, Windows)

Children seem to quickly move from pointing to dragging on the screen. This is a movement we practice in the real world, too... dragging one's finger through a sandbox, pudding, or finger paints are examples of this sort of movement. We can help little ones learn to drag by taking their hands and helping them drag their fingers across the screen, or by verbalizing the process as they do it. "Look at the pretty lines your fingers made" or "Look what happens when you touch this apple and drag it to the tree." This is also when your child may begin scribbling or drawing on the screen.
Apps for children who are dragging things with intention should provide instant responses. The effects of her finger dragging across the screen should be clear and easy for her to notice. Apps that are great for "draggers" may include scene building apps like felt board apps, sorting apps, and others that focus on placing items in specific places, including puzzles. Beginning to intentionally scribble or draw may be part of the "draggers'" "bag of tricks" but at this stage they are not very precise, particularly with lifting and restarting lines they may be making.

BeBop Blox
You and your little one can work together to build these fun animated block puzzles.  (iOS)    

Drawers and Writers
After beginning to intentionally drag items across a tablet's screen, some children will begin drawing and maybe even "pretend" writing. These are often specific or more precise movements requiring sustained dragging movements and lifting of the finger or stylus to start and stop letters or drawing elements. We make this distinction from "draggers," but it is likely your child will move back and forth between these two levels. Apps for children with the more precise eye-hand coordination and intention of this category include drawing and painting apps.

Drawing Pad
At any age, playing with color can be a lot of fun. This virtual art set is a great place to draw, paint, write, and create together. (iOS and Android)

Many youngsters move forward with very precise eye-hand skills and intention. These youngsters may be able to use keys on the onscreen keyboard to type letters. Children may enjoy typing letters even though they may not yet have knowledge of spelling or words. Eventually children pair their knowledge of letters to type their name or other words from their environment. As they learn to type the letters in their names they may begin to see the letter symbols as having meaning and sounds, and then they are on the path to writing and reading.

My First Keyboard
You and your "typer" can use this specialized keyboard in most programs which use a keyboard -- Word, Pages, or even the "Notes" app. There are settings for changing the layout to abc order instead of qwerty too. (iOS)
Look for these developmental icons in our upcoming blog posts...

or in our book "Using an iPad with Your Preschooler."

Think about these developmental stages when choosing apps for your child and let us know the developmental stage of your child's favorite app on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page, via email: Gail-Gayle@SuddenlyitClicks.com, or tweet us at @suddenlyclicks.

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