Selecting high quality, educational and fun apps is no easy task. As Digital Learning Lead Librarian at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, I spend hours looking through Children’s Tech Review, School Library Journal and Hornbook relying on their app recommendations to share with our staff and the youth we serve. Many times an app we love at the Library disappears from the app store! Other times apps simply do not provide the high-quality engagement that we seek. If there is one good thing when it comes to the overwhelming amount of “educational” apps available, it is that we can be incredibly selective with the media we choose to use in classrooms and at the Library with children of all ages. We rely on policy and research for these selections, but also respect the interests of the youth in our spaces.
Preschoolers’ (kids ages 3-5) brains are primed for learning through the five early learning activities: talking, singing, reading, writing and playing. Per research in The Roots of STEM Success, children in this age group tend to “ask an average of 76 information seeking questions per hour.” As their child’s first and most important teachers, parents maximize this learning when co-viewing—meaning sharing and interacting with media, and utilizing the early learning activities in interactions around apps, tech toys and any new media. This is why early childhood development experts recommend caregivers “talk, sing, read, write and play” with children every day.
While very young children learn best from real world interactions, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated its guidelines for using technology as a learning method for children. However, AAP strongly recommends that parents choose high-quality programming that creates interaction. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently issued new research on screen time. Screen time is not recommended for children under 2 in most circumstances. For children under five WHO suggested they spend one hour or less engaged in screen time. AAP provides a handy resource guide and a resource to customize your family’s media use plan. Librarians can serve as media mentors for families by suggesting apps and media use tools. Very young children learn best from real world interactions, and we give caregivers the tools they need to connect the learning happening in apps to everyday activities.
These are some of the Library’s favorite apps for fun and learning with preschool age children!
Loopimal is a deceivingly simple app for children. Learners will discover making patterns with sound and movement. The characters are funny animal illustrations who soothingly move along to musical beats. This app is great for promoting pre-coding skills through programming the sequences and playing with patterns. Loopimal is my personal favorite app for this age group, joined by Yatatoy’s other fantastic apps, Bandimal; Miximal; Drawnimal.
PBS Parents Play and Learn by PBS Kids
Like books for this age group, apps promote learning best when shared with an adult who can ask questions and scaffold use. The PBS Parent Play and Learn app provides fun games and media to promote literacy and learning. In addition to the engaging content many kids will recognize, PBS embeds tips and tricks to support a shared experience during screen time.
Children learn through play, especially the preschool age set! This app supports imaginative play through a simple interface. Who doesn’t love to push buttons? Creativity required as children use this app with their cardboard crafts. Make a spaceship out of cardboard and use this gizmo as the high tech dashboard for child-led pretend play.
MarcoPolo Weather is a classroom visit favorite for Library staff supporting storytimes about weather and getting dressed. The friendly animal characters brave the elements as children can experiment with hot and cold temperatures, weather phenomena and seasonal appropriate dress. This is a great free app to support early learning STEM curriculum.
Another preschool STEM friendly app by Tinybop, Mammals is a detailed dive into the lives of animals. This app is best shared with an adult who can answer the countless questions little learners may have. There are tons of features, and parents may find older and younger children bonding over the rich content. Like most of Tinybop’s apps, this comes with a great guide and is available in several languages. Check out their blog for more fun.
Daniel Tiger’s Storybooks by PBS Kids
Daniel Tiger’s irresistible charm comes through in five interactive e-books included in this storybook app. Adults and children can read along with tips embedded in the content to help parents engage with the text. Check out the Library for more Daniel Tiger books and materials. Daniel has even made a celebrity appearance on an episode to our Main library location!
Letter School by Letter School Enabled Learning
Letter School is a free app that allows young children to practice reading and writing while learning letters. The activities are scaffolded for different levels. Check in with your Children’s Librarian for more recommendations for apps that support early literacy skills.
Kristin is the Digital Learning Lead Librarian at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. She enjoys embroidery, feminist children’s literature and strong female protagonists! When not corralling robots at the Library you will find her hanging out with her dogs Iggy and Fritz.