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. Here are a few of our favorite apps for little learners, along with some tips and activities to support early literacy.
Talking to children is important because they need to receive and create language to learn it.
- Book: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- App: The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Friends – First Words by Story Toys
- Interaction: This app introduces vocabulary. Words are grouped thematically, and are available in multiple languages. As you engage with the book and the app, encourage talking by having children make predictions. “What do you think will happen when caterpillar comes out of the cocoon?” Count out loud how many objects you see. Make additional connections when you venture outdoors by identifying insects together.
Singing is a great way for children to learn about language because the sounds that make up words become more evident.
- Book: Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming (to the tune of “Skip to My Lou”)
- App: Little Fox Music Box by Fox and Sheep
- Interaction: Singing with our children is a way to help them hear the smaller sounds in words, especially if there is a different note for each syllable. Learning to hear the parts of words helps develop phonological awareness which later helps with reading. While using this app with your child you can sing together, and even record your voices. Technology serves as a learning tool when it is used in communication. As your child’s first teacher your voice is a powerful motivator. Record yourself singing your child’s favorite books and songs. You can sing anywhere!
Reading and sharing books provides a learning opportunity to explore ways to deal with emotions and feelings.
- Book: Please Mr. Panda by Steve Anthony
- App: Daniel Tiger’s Story Books by PBS Kids
- Interaction: Encourage your child to talk while you are sharing books and apps–children need to receive and create language to learn it. This app has talking tips for parents on how to relate Daniel’s stories to your child’s everyday life. Reading together is the most important activity you can do with your child. When using this app and the book, children can talk about feelings by observing Daniel Tiger or Mr. Panda’s facial expressions. Talk to your child about how books and interactive media like apps make them feel. “Why did you look happy when Daniel Tiger did that?” “How did you feel when the animals did not want a donut?” “What makes you happy?”
Writing involves any kind of mark making including scribbles, which are a child’s first steps to learning how to write.
- Book: ABC Dream by Kim Krans
- App: Letter School by Letter School Enabling Learning
- Interaction: Being able to coordinate small muscles in hands and fingers enables children to hold things, cut with scissors, tie their shoes, and fasten buttons. Development of fine motor skills also helps prepare children to write. ABC Dream introduces children to the letters of the alphabet through imaginative illustrations. Connect this learning with Letter School as children can practice writing through scaffolded activities in the app. Even though children may not write words we recognize, they are communicating and building the fine motor skills to write. Practice with chunky crayons, paint brushes and chalk to connect writing with the words in books.
Playing gives children an opportunity to experience the world while developing fine and gross motor skills, cognitive concepts, language and social skills.
- Book: Rah Rah Radishes: A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre
- App: Toca Kitchen by Toca Boca
- Interaction: Children learn through play! Research continues to show that play builds the foundation for growth in areas like literacy and STEM. Playing with other children at a young age, experiencing the fun of taking turns and sharing, and discovering that it is fun to pass the ball and then get it back, are great ways to learn important social emotional skills. Food offers a world of imaginative play for children. Have your child prepare pretend meals. Introduce new and fun vocabulary. “What is an artichoke!?” Help children make sense of their world by grouping things that go together such as knives, forks and spoons at a table.
Check out our preschool app list of staff favorites for more suggestions.