Preschooll is a major market in the world of apps, with more than half of apps on the Apple and Android platforms geared toward kids 5 and under. But few of these apps are developmentally appropriate and most fail to teach in ways preschoolers need to learn.
Those are the findings of a report recently released by researchers at the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine. The researchers looked at 171 apps from the top 10 paid and free Apple and Android math and literacy apps available on Amazon and Google Play and found that few apps are designed to teach children based on research showing how children aged 3 to 5 learn. That means including clear prompts so children understand what to do, providing clear instructions and modeling and giving feedback that helps children understand why something is correct or incorrect. Many apps provided rewards like high scores as an incentive although research shows that the learning itself, and getting to new levels of an app, should be the desired reward for children.
Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a nonprofit advocacy group, said many apps have been “falsely marketed as educational” for years, even though there is no evidence that the apps actually help children learn. “Companies know if you want parents to download their apps, claiming it’s ‘educational’ is going to increase those chances,” Golin said. “Every app isn’t designed by working with developmental psychologists…they don’t understand pacing or how kids are processing at that age.”
The authors of the preschool apps report note that there are some limitations to their study, including the fact that the report did not observe children using the apps or measure their learning and the report is meant to mainly be an analysis of research-supported teaching practices among apps for preschool-age children. The authors suggested that to improve preschool apps, developers should “consider what makes these preschool apps practice versus educational,” and parents who want to use apps for educational purposes should look at the features of the apps before giving them to their children.