Mar 19, 2019

App Survey response or, "Why I don't focus on "educational" apps"

 Thanks to everyone who participated in the my survey about the app recommendation services that we offer at Madison Public Library. I was honored and humbled to see that many of the participants are children's librarians from across the country!

One of the questions that several people asked was why I don't review or recommend many overtly "educational" apps. When I asked Katie Paciga, researcher and head of the ALA "Excellence in Early Learning Digital Media Award" committee her thoughts on this topic she told me, "Children learn in many ways, including open ended play with things that interest them. Reducing their experiences to those deemed as "learning," narrowly focused on cognitive skills, diminishes their opportunities to experience in ways that are often the most developmentally appropriate for that particular child."

Here is my own response:

I've heard many parents say, "Well if my kids are going to be spending time on a device, at least they can be LEARNING something while they're at it!" and while that sentiment makes some sense, I think we need to think carefully about how kids learn best. Many of the apps that are being marketed as "educational" are focusing on some really specific skills -- letter/color/shape recognition, letter sounds, matching things, adding, subtracting, etc.

Recently, I was testing an app with my daughter and one of the activities started by telling the kids about basic color mixing and then asked her to find things that were a certain color in a picture. I know that my daughter will learn more deeply about color mixing by physically painting with watercolor paints or mixing blobs of play dough together and I would rather she learn in those hands-on ways.

There are other --more subtle, more complex-- ways that my children can benefit from app use, such as innovative problem solving that they get from playing Inventioneers or Gorogoa, impulse control that they can practice while playing games like Shine: Journey of Light, looking for different results when playing games that have cause and effect with no prescribed "correct answer" like Toca Mystery House or Sago Mini Super Juice, or a chance to just lose themselves in an imaginative world such as those in the Toca Life apps.

I realize that there are schools that would like to use apps in the classroom and for those needs, there are a number of app reviewers such as Teachers with Apps, Kindertown (though they aren't writing new reviews anymore their database has some great titles and their app has a really nice interface), Moms with Apps, and Children's Technology Review that review more of the "educational" apps.  However, as one survey respondent noted, "It's great to have reviews of apps coming from a library perspective. A lot of the information I find comes from teachers, and what works well in a classroom often doesn't work well in the library or in storytime. Thank you for taking the time to provide all of this great information!!"

I hope that you find my App Recommendations page to be a useful resource.  High quality apps are becoming increasingly difficult to find, but I refuse to compromise my standards and will only review apps that I think are truly worth your money and your child's time. I know that their time in childhood is limited and there's no reason to waste any of it using poor quality media.
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