Today, software developers and the proprietors of “app stores” for phones and tablets are engaged in a heated race to 1,000,000 apps. Whether you use iOS App Store, Android Market, or the Windows Store, chances are good that your smartphone is app-based. Chances are also good that you’ve got a fair number of children’s games installed on your phone for the kids in your life, be they little brothers, children, students or neighbors.
Are apps a good learning and playing tool for kids, or are they causing damage? This topic has been the subject of some pretty heated debates, and there is no consensus. In this article, you can take a dispassionate look at some of the more obvious pros and cons of app-based playing and learning.
Remember: “Learning” vs. “Playing” Games.
Learning apps have a clear educational benefit.
Playing apps do not explicitly teach, but rather entertain.
Pro: Children can be enraptured by app games, which can be a great benefit to parents. As a quick and easy way to get a child to sit still, it’s hard to beat.
Con: On the other hand, you aren’t getting your phone back. Particularly very young children can be very possessive of toys, and if you’re regularly handing your phone or tablet over as a play device, the child will begin to see that object as their own.
Con: Cheap or free, children need to develop spatial recognition, depth perception, hand-eye coordination … apps do less to develop these essential skills than real world toys.
Pro: Well-designed education apps for toddlers often take the place of fingerpainting, coloring books, word finds, and other activities used to teach toddlers and young children. Even better, they’re mess free, and can help develop cognitive skills without impacting the environment.
Con: Overexposure to a virtual world at too young an age risks the child becoming disinterested in the real, non-virtual world. Imaginative play is very important, so parents shouldn’t depend solely on apps to educate and entertain.
The Bottom Line
There is compelling evidence that educational apps in the form of children’s games (and be wary of the word “educational,” while you’re app-shopping) help children develop useful skills, including an early familiarity with technology, that can help them as develop into adolescence and beyond. On the other hand, equally compelling evidence exists to support the idea that apps are no better than TV or video games. As a parent, the best thing to do is homework. Research which apps are truly educational, and which are just a colorful time-waster. Don’t use tablets as a babysitter, and make apps a part of a larger learning environment that also includes real-world imaginative play and hands-on learning, as well. Strike a balance, and your children will benefit.
Tony is a technological enthusiast and has to stay up to date on all current technology and gadgets.