What Every Parent Needs to Know About Choosing Educational Apps and e-Games for Kids

I took my first computer class when I was nine or ten years old.  How times have changed! Technology is a part of everyday life, and children today are exposed to technology earlier and earlier.  What's more, they are utilizing it earlier and earlier too.   Most kids today are practically born knowing how to double-click a mouse and how to work a touchscreen.  Toddlers these days can unlock their parents' smartphones and pull up their favorite apps in seconds!

With so many mobile games and apps available, parents have to be as thorough in researching and selecting games and apps as they are in selecting any kind of toy or activity for their child.  They need to ask the same kinds of questions they would for a physical toy:  Is it age appropriate?  Is it entertaining?  Does it have educational value?  Does it develop any analytical or social or other skills?

I recently had the opportunity to interview child development and learning expert Dr. Jody Sherman LeVos, a UC Berkeley scholar specializing in mathematical and cognitive development and the math and science development expert of LeapFrog’s Learning Team (as well as parent to two boys). Dr. LeVos shared some great tips on what parents should look for when purchasing or downloading e-games and apps for their children. Check out our conversation below:

I've summarized some key points our conversation:

 What should parents be looking for to make sure an app is age-appropriate and educational for their children? 
* Look for games and apps that have been designed and/or approved by an educational expert.
* Find content that is fun and interactive. Kids learn best when they are playing, having fun and engaging with the app.
* Look for age-appropriateness. Games that are too advanced can be frustrating, and games that are too easy can be boring.
* Look for games that go beyond assessing or quizzing your child, and are actually teaching them something new.
* Look for games and apps that offer an element of personalization. Kids are unique and learn at their own rate, curriculum automatically levels up if child is doing well, and levels down if child needs a bit more support.

 How can we make sure our kids have a balanced "e-diet" of games that are entertaining and games that are educational? 
 Kids want to learn, and kids have fun learning. The best games and most successful games are ones that are compelling to kids, ones they want to play, and also happen to be educational. They don't have to be overtly educational like spelling or math flash cards. Games can teach skills like managing resources, building, spacial awareness. Also, when kids develop relationships with characters, like Elmo from Sesame Street they actually learn better from those characters.

Where can parents find more information?
A great online resource to help find the best apps is CommonSenseMedia.org.  The site has experts review the games and give ratings. Also, Leapfrog.com apps are developed with experts, and by year's end will have over 800 apps available.

What is the difference between free apps and their paid versions?
Sometimes you really do get what you pay for. Free apps are sometimes "shallow" learning experiences, and do not offer the depth of curriculum that you get in a paid app. Also, there can be hidden costs -- you may get one free level, then have to pay for additional levels, or there may be in-app purchases that parents may not know about until they receive their credit card statements listing purchases for virtual pet treats!

Thank  you to Dr. Jody Sherman LeVos for sharing those useful insights!

 Disclosure: I received a gift pack courtesy of Leapfrog as a thank-you for participating in the interview. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.
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