Parents often ask me what they should look for when deciding whether a website or app will be helpful to their children. If the purpose of the site or app is for kids to learn something, there are several important key elements. Evaluate each of the following:
How "busy” is the site? Is there so much activity on the screen that it is hard to decide what is important? Free websites and apps have to put advertisements on the screen in order to pay their expenses. As long as the advertisements are not inappropriate for children to see, this might not be a problem. But, if there are more ads than content, it is hard for kids to find what they are supposed to be watching and doing. In that case, not much learning happens.
Is the content accurate? I have seen apps that confuse kids more than teach them. I suggest that parents do the activities and play the games to make sure what the apps are teaching is correct.
Are the activities actually teaching the content, or are they hindering real learning? For example, if the purpose of the app is to teach cursive handwriting, playing a game that encourages you to write too quickly might mess up what was taught. Or, if the site penalizes you for answering too slowly, a child with slow processing will be frustrated playing it and will not learn from it.
Does your child like to use the app or website? It should be easy to figure out how to use and be fun to do. If not, look for another. There are millions of websites and apps available for little or no cost. I like to look at educator websites to get ideas for good places to go.
Does the app or website provide appropriate feedback for right and wrong answers? The app should provide help for wrong answers so children can figure out what the right answer is.
It takes a little effort to find the best websites or apps that promote learning, but the time is well spent when you find a great learning tool for your child.
Livia McCoy spent many years teaching upper school science. She currently serves as Dean of Student Support at The Steward School in Richmond, VA. Livia sees each student as an individual with great potential to learn, and feels her job is to help every student figure out how to be successful in school. Livia says, “I blog about the many smart students who struggle in school because they think differently or have attention issues. I share what I have learned helping these students, their parents and teachers to see how they can experience success in school.” Livia welcomes comments on her blog at SchoolFamily.com.