Friday, January 13, 2012

Techno-tots Thrive on Educational Cellphone Games and Apps

Of course, you can find apps and games to help your child discover the great big world and master the basics of how it works. Only two parts of the process are tricky—finding the best, most appropriate educational games and tools for your unique child, and then making sure you don’t use them more often than your kid.

toddler apps

College professors still express shock and awe as they face classrooms full of freshmen who never have known a world without the Internet. In the fall of 2013, kindergarten teachers will share professors’ wonder as they face classrooms full of precocious learners who never have known a world without iPhones, Androids, and hundreds of thousands of educational gadgets and diversions.

More than half of children in kindergarten and the primary grades today know how to operate computers or touch-screens, and a few elite private schools require elementary school students to bring iPads to class with them.

The English language already has stretched to accommodate these phenomena: “Techno-tot” has found its way into common usage and is a candidate for inclusion in the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Karen Simpson, long-time second-grade teacher and local heroine in Blossom Valley, California, cautions parents, “The child who starts school without working knowledge of computers and handheld wireless gadgets competes at a serious disadvantage.”

Mothers, doctors, and psychologists at “,” the same people who brought you the best-ever book on pregnancy, have two compelling suggestions for cellphone play with younger children. First, they agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for screen time, saying children under two should have no screen time whatsoever, and children between 2 and 6 should watch television and play video games no more than two hours per day—a very liberal limit. Second, the parenting pundits very strongly recommend you play educational cellphone games with your child, asking questions and offering encouragement while you play. Sharing the videogame “teaches your techno-tot that nothing’s more fun than face-to-face play.” Big brothers and sisters should learn that lesson, too.

Best of the techno-tot trainers
Although “best of…” lists change almost hourly as engineers and designers introduce new apps, nevertheless five educational games have set the standards for others to meet and beat.

Kidroid A child’s primer in educational game form, and so engaging children do not recognize it as a teaching tool. Kidroid includes basic matching games for younger children and advances to reading activities designed to promote “sight” reading or recognition of simple words.

MathBrain by Symbian “As simple as educational gaming gets,” the experts say, “but frighteningly habit-forming for all ages.” The interface looks like a ten key calculator, and a math problem appears at the screen’s top. Users must solves as many problems as possible as quickly as possible, and the game evolves with them as they become increasingly proficient. MathBrain also includes a feature that allows gamers to compete with other emerging mathematicians all around the world.

Garfield Trains your Brain by Symbian At first, Garfield distracts users from the game’s complexity and sophistication; then, he just becomes annoying as he chides you for poor performances. The game grows with you, first reviewing your command of basic math, logic, and memory, and then advancing to more complicated problem-solving. Each time you post a high score, you open a new set of games. Teen-agers report Garfield especially helps their “foreign” language skills, because they can select French or Spanish instead of English.

Flashcard Champion for iPhone Not much more sophisticated than good old-fashioned 3x5 index cards, but a lot more engaging because users can customize it with sound effects and excellent graphics. The app contains cards for the four basic algorithms—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and it challenges users to answer as many questions as possible in a specific time period. Users set the number of questions, the time period, and the degree of difficulty. The app stores high scores for on-going motivation.

Kiddo by Symbian Perfect for pre-schoolers, Kiddo teaches basic literacy and numeracy with colorful images, good music, and voice recognition. As children become more proficient, games develop their keyboarding skills. For parents’ protecting and reassurance, Kiddo has a “childlock” feature that allows children to play with mom’s dad’s handheld without risk of answering important phone calls or deleting crucial files.

Karen Simpson wholeheartedly endorses these tools and games, but she offers a familiar caveat: “Children should learn to love books as much as or more than they love their games, and they must develop their handwriting skills as carefully as they perfect keyboarding,” she says. “Most of all, because the games become so addictive, parents should remind the kids that it’s important just to go outside and run around for a while.”

Author Stephanie Sanders is a communications consultant and writes for a UK mobile phones site, offering all the latest phones and plans.

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