Choosing Appropriate Apps for the Early Childhood Classroom

As an increasing number of early childhood educators include tablets in their programs, they are asking more questions about how to use these digital tools. How should they choose which apps to download? How will they use apps to create engaging and effective learning experiences for their students?

Gail Lovely, founder of, is one person who can help navigate this process. Lovely is a 30-year-educator who now runs her own consulting practice. She works with schools, school systems, publishers, and others to encourage a developmentally appropriate approach to using technology for the littlest learners and their teachers.

The TEC Center at the Erikson Institute has asked Gail to join us on October 16th for the latest installment in our webinar series hosted by Early Childhood Investigations. We’ll explore topics related to the appropriate, intentional, and effective use of technology and digital tools in early childhood.

I had a chance to connect with Lovely to ask her to share her thoughts on the appropriate use of digital tools in early learning settings. Here’s a glimpse of what she’ll be discussing.

Amanda Armstrong: You’ve been at this a long time. How do touchscreens and apps differ from the technologies and software that have come before?lovely-300x275

Gail Lovely: Touchscreens in a portable format have made the more direct interaction with software and programs needed for young learners finally a reality. When I started with technologies and young learners in the 1980s, we had to deal with keyboards as the interface. This is not a friendly tool for young people who do not yet even know their letters or numbers. Computer mice brought additional access, but computer mice still operate on the horizontal plane (table top) while the screen is vertical, yet another obstruction to little learners’ direct interaction with powerful tools.

So what’s different now?

With touchscreens we finally have a direct interaction by little ones, connecting small fingers and young brains with computer-based learning tools. The multi-touch environment also adds the possibilities of natural interactions like swiping to turn a virtual page. The nature of mobile tools like tablets is much more like the natural environment for most young learners. We sit on a couch and read books in our laps; we stretch out on the floor and draw with crayons. We can easily do this with tablets as well.

Today’s tools and apps make the combination of media so easy even a child can do it. To take a picture, add voice, draw, and the like are easy with these tools, when in the not-so-distant past making multimedia was only for older kids and professionals. Apps are much more likely to be available with multiple language choices, and the number of affordable choices is daunting.

Why is developing a criteria for app selection so important for educators?

The nature of mobile tools like tablets is much more like the natural environment for most young learners. We sit on a couch and read books in our laps; we stretch out on the floor and draw with crayons. We can easily do this with tablets as well.

Educators need to take responsibility for using resources of the highest caliber and with only the best graphics, interface, and content. Selecting apps is a new task and many educators are still learning about the possibilities and features of great apps for use in educational settings. It is still early in the use of this genre of educational resources and, as it was for earlier genres, cute, fun, or innovative may open the door for some apps in educational settings. However, this should not be enough to make an app stellar for learning.

Each setting—each child even—may require or benefit from a different set of criteria. This webinar will share characteristics and features to consider including graphics, interface, file management, developmental requirements, and more.

So what criteria should educators be looking out for in selecting apps for their classrooms?

Be thoughtful and intentional in the selection and use of apps. Apps may be inappropriate for a number of reasons and it is important to be thorough in our exploration of apps prior to using them with young ones.

Secondly, educators should remember that for young children apps are best used in social settings. Conversations, discussions, and sharing are important off-app features to consider.

What else?

Developmental differences are also important considerations when choosing apps. And, finally, advertising is not an acceptable part of apps. Young children have difficulty dealing with the interruption of learning or play and may also struggle to understand what is an ad and what is “content.”

Join us for the webinar on October 16 to learn more. You can register to attend at the TEC Center. For those of you unable to join us, the event will be archived here.

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