Healthy Kids YMCA Child Care

Apps for kids: Can your child really learn from screen time?

A mother and her two young children playing on a tablet while seated on a sofa in their home.

There’s no hotter issue in parenting circles right now than technology usage among kids. While there is good reason to be wary about letting little ones swipe and tap away, parents shouldn’t assume the worst when it comes to technology like smartphone and tablet apps. Using age-appropriate programs — within reasonable limits, of course — can actually be beneficial to children.

What are the advantages of apps?

Although there’s no substitute for tactile, hands-on learning, educational apps are valuable tools to have in your parenting toolbox. Programs designed to promote and extend early learning will aid young children in developing important school readiness skills like identifying letters, numbers, shapes, and colours. In addition to teaching children their ABCs and 123s, there are plenty of apps on the market that make introducing children to soft skills, such as sharing, much easier.

Want to connect with your kids in a fun and meaningful way? There’s an app for that! The interactive pages of a book app make storytime an enriching experience for the touch-screen generation while bringing families together. Most importantly, grabbing a book off any shelf — whether virtual or IRL — will help you instill a love of reading in your youngster and develop their literacy skills.

Apps that inspire freedom of expression through art and music may also be beneficial for kids. These programs can foster a creative spirit in youngsters which will boost their ability to analyze and problem solve. And as small children use their little fingers to create masterpieces of their own, they’ll strengthen their fine motor skills as well as gain confidence.

Despite the advantages of interactive media, it’s important to keep in mind that not all apps are made equal. Unlocking these benefits starts with selecting the right program.

Making healthy media choices

But, in a sea of “junk food”–like apps, how can you tell what counts as quality digital content? Before downloading an app, consider whether it covers most, if not all, of the four pillars of learning for interactive media. These pillars will help you make the all-important distinction between “empty media” (content that merely entertains) and “enriching media” (experiences with technology that enhance a child’s understanding of the world). You will find the healthiest content for your child to consume in enriching media apps that build skills through open-ended play, present opportunities to manipulate digital worlds, and enable them to communicate their learning.

So, where do you stand on the debate over kids’ screen time usage? Let us know by joining the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.