Why Apps for Kids are Under-developed?
Don’t be misled by the universal view that when you give your child a tablet and download any application for children they will be instantly happy. Most probably they will not.
Since our 7-year-old son got a tablet for his birthday we have been busy testing all kinds of apps for children obviously with him as a main tester. Mom was officially appointed as the one responsible for hunting for the best apps and downloading them. Then we would sit together and give them a try one by one. It was fun but quite exhausting. As a result our son rejected more than 80% of the applications downloaded for him, which he would do usually within the first minute from opening the app. What is even more interesting is that the applications he turned down where the ones we had selected from hundreds of apps and qualified them as “potentially suitable”.
Child – a harsh judge
Although the application market is relatively new there are already tons of apps available for children. However, we think we can risk a statement that only 20% are of good quality. As it is in case of toys or educational resources developers need to know their target customer well before launching their product. Children are the most demanding customers you can imagine. Unfortunately, not many app developers seem to understand this and probably do not yet see the necessity of investing in working closely with child development specialists and educational advisors. The first 30 seconds up to a minute is enough for a professional to determine whether the app has been designed with children in mind. The similar amount of time is needed for a child to do the same. If the app doesn’t stand this preliminary test, it is highly likely that the child will simply turn it down.
Tablet applications have opened new possibilities to enhance learning for children of all ages, providing the offered experience is of the highest quality. And this can be achieved by developing the applications which will take into consideration not only children’s age but also their stage of development. First of all, tablet apps offer possibilities for multisensory experience more than any other multimedia device has been able to so far. Children can use their fingers and palms to work directly with the app without having to use awkward extensions such as keyboards or mice. This means they are able to perform certain operations faster, easier and with greater precision. Children’s fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, for example, can be trained with the apps that allow for tracing.
Attractive graphics and sound effects can offer children extraordinary visual and auditory experience that can be used to achieve a variety of educational goals. Then we have creativity, reasoning, logical thinking and social skills that can be addressed and taken further with sufficient guidance. There is plenty of room to work with numeracy and literacy. However, so far we have not found many apps that instead of testing sheer knowledge would demonstrate thorough understanding of children’s learning processes related to acquiring reading and numeracy skills. Finally, we have at hand a scope of curricula subjects such as geography, history, physics and biology, just to name the core ones, which can be easily smuggled in an entertaining way into applications for children.
Good idea is not enough
So where are the apps that should help our kids stretch their skills, acquire knowledge about the world, create, think and explore in a way that is more natural for them? We hope they are still in the process of being developed. The problem with most applications is that they do not cater for children’s needs. Even though many of them may have already received excellent reviews this does not necessarily mean they are good for children. Reviews are usually made by adults and later viewed by adults’ eyes only. Recently we have read a very positive review of a story book app which, after a closer assessment, had serious pedagogical issues to be addressed urgently. None of other reviews mentioned this as they all focused on stunning visual and sound effects only. Seeing through child’s eyes is crucial to understanding what is best for children and this is what most app descriptions and app reviews usually do not reflect.
We have seen some nearly good quality apps but there was almost always one of two elementary things that negatively influenced or even dominated the whole experience. It was either the graphics that was too aggressive, the instruction language was too complicated, the prompt boxes popped up continuously, the pace of the game was too fast, there was a pre-set time limit, negative or even ill pedagogy was in place or the testing children (or sometimes even us adults) could not intuitively grasp the aim of the game by themselves, and the list could go on and on. Simply having a good idea for an app is never sufficient to achieve success with children. Nor is excellent visual and sound effects on their own. With such a demanding client as children all crucial elements need essentially go together to create positive, educational and fun experience and there can be no compromise here whatsoever. And to be able to achieve this it is essential to work with professional educational advisors whose experience relates directly to working with children and designing educational resources for them using the most effective educational approaches such as Active Learning and Positive Pedagogy.
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title image courtesy of (marin) at Freedigitalphotos.net