How to know if an app really IS educational

8 things to look out for - so you can download the best apps for your toddler, preschooler and schoolchild


There are currently more than 80,000 apps in the App Store that claim to be ‘educational’. We say ‘claim’ because there’s no regulation over what makes an app educational – anyone can just add that label. Which means there are probably a lot of apps that aren’t educational, despite their claims.


Scientists at Penn State University have been studying children’s apps and warns parents not to buy into the educational sell. “Many apps make dramatic promises — from teaching advanced concepts to infants or even changing your child’s brain,” says researcher Jennifer Zosh

“Parents should use common sense and remember that an app — even an educational app – is just an app, not a miracle.”

So how do we know which ones are the good guys? Helpfully, the researchers have identified 8 things to look out for…

1 Avoid repetitive swiping

Apps that are all about repetitive swiping have no benefit or mental stimulation whatsoever. They may keep your child’s attention for a little while but they’re not going to develop anything more than a sore finger.

2 Watch out for ‘bells and whistles’

You know the apps that have bright colours, flashing lights and lots happening on the screen all at once. They can be a bit much for adults and they are extremely overwhelming to a child.  With so much going on, it’s far too much of a distraction for them to take anything in – even if they are labelled as educational. They will stimulate your child but for all the wrong reasons, so don’t expect an easy night if your child has been playing with the app just before bed – a very good reason to avoid.

The researchers also found that children get a lot more out of simple apps – with only one thing happening at a time.

3 It’s not all about new, new, new

If you overload your child with new knowledge they are not going to absorb  any of it at all.  An app should be an extension of the things they already know and not something brand new and hard to grasp.  If they are building on their knowledge, they can pick up useful bits of information and really benefit from it. In a nutshell, if you give them an app which is full of things they’ve never come across before, they will be more confused than anything else, no matter what a genius your child is.

4 Choose apps you can play together

Research by the Dept of Education has shown that being involved in your child’s play and family learning can really benefit your child. .

While we assume that apps are unsocial, they don’t have to be.  Look for apps that encourage shared playing – with you, siblings or friends.

Apps that encourage children to ask questions are also beneficial. Not only can you share your words of wisdom but it’s also a great way of keeping a watchful idea on what your children are up to without them realising.


5 Choose problem solving apps

Apps that are puzzle based will always get your children thinking, as well as ones that ask your child to solve a problem. Puzzle apps don’t have to have an educational angle or theme – slotting pieces in a jigsaw puzzle adds to your child’s learning skills.

6 Familiar characters can help

If the game features one of their favourite characters for example Peppa Pig or Paddington Bear, research shows that it can increase learning. The theory is, it engages your child more as your child is excited before playing and it can hold your child’s attention for longer.

7 Read the user ratings

It’s always good to see what other parents think and the easiest way to do this is to check user ratings. Most reviews are helpful but beware those that sound too good to be true – some may be written by those involved in creating the app!

8 Look at ‘non-educational’ apps too

Don’t just search for apps labelled educational, it may still help your child develop skills so don’t just disallow it. For example, the CBeebies app has both fun and educational games on it.


So any recommendations?

One of the apps that the researchers recommended was Alien Assignment (above). It’s a fun game where aliens have crash landed and children go on a mission to find what’s needed to mend the spaceship with the help of their parents. The app also guides children to explore their world and their own knowledge.

Do you have any apps that you can recommend? Let us know in the comments below

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