Parents Tips for Digital Smarts

Criteria for Choosing Apps or Book Apps for Preschoolers

Apps and Book Apps are better used as a supplement to an actual print book or a specific concept.  Print books, apps, book apps can all be connected to real world things or concepts that can be discussed or written out.  It is best to foster these connections as much as possible.  Below are some items to consider when choosing apps or book apps for your growing children.

What to look for when choosing apps or book apps:

Interactivity: Interactive elements should enhance and not detract users from advancing the narrative of a story or moving forward through the app.

  • There should be easily identifiable cues that make interactive elements discoverable.
  • Make sure the cues are simple and clear enough for the age and developmental level of the child.
  • Easily Identifiable elements for advancing through a story or app.

Age Appropriateness: This does not mean only appropriateness of the content but also the functionality is important.

  • Elements need to be larger for smaller children.
  • Make sure your child can perform the swipes, taps, and other gestures that are needed.
  • Be wary of apps that require two or more actions or tasks at once.
  • Navigational cues that are easy and clear to understand are important for advancing in the app or book app.

Annoyance Factors and Customization:  It is important to keep in mind that one thing that may annoy one person may not annoy the next so it’s good to know what annoys your little one.

  • Some of the best apps and book apps have customization features.  Here are some features to look for:
    • An on/off switch for the narrator’s voice or app sounds.
    • A two-touch menu is the best in order to avoid accidental exit from the story or app.
    • Interactive elements that can be turned off.
    • There should not be too many options.
    • The top of the screen is the best place for a menu.
      • Since free versions are typically ad supported this can lead to in-app purchases and possibly the app to exit to open a website.
      • A well-articulated voice or clear sounds.
      • Animation that is complementary but not too overwhelming.
      • Animation that is glitch-free and lacks choppiness.
      • Features or content that goes beyond reading (this is for book apps).
      • Books that can be used for teaching (e.g. a message, discussion questions, highlights the word) or literacy development.

Early Literacy Skill Development: Just as print books, early literacy skill development can be achieved through use of book apps and apps.  Look for apps and app books that support one or more of these early literacy skills:

  • Print Motivation: New media can be used as motivator just as long as it is modeled well and produces a positive experience.
  • Vocabulary:  There are many word and letter apps that can be used to develop vocabulary.
  • Print Awareness: Some book apps have a “read-to-me” feature where a recorded voice reads the story aloud and then the words are highlighted.
  • Narrative Skills:  There are some apps that can assist with creating narratives but the best way is to use the happenings in the app or book app to raise a discussion.  Asking open-ended questions about certain aspects of the app or book app can help with developing narrative skills.
  • Letter Knowledge:  Just as vocabulary, there are many word and letter apps that can foster letter knowledge.
  • Phonological Awareness:  Again just as vocabulary, there are many word and letter apps that teach phonological awareness.
    • Talking: Child learn language and other early literacy skills through listening to the people they are around the most.  They hear words spoken and learn their meaning and remember them.  Talking about words that appear in apps and book apps is one way that children can learn language.
    • Singing: Songs are a great way to learn language.  Singing can slow down language so children can hear the different sounds that make up words.  Some apps and book apps feature songs and singing.
    • Reading: Reading together increases vocabulary and general knowledge. It helps children learn how print looks and how books work. Apps that have a reading section and book apps can be used in the same way as print books.
    • Writing: Reading and writing are very much connected.  Apps and book apps that feature writing activities can teach Children pre-reading skills.
    • Playing:  Play helps children think symbolically, so they understand that spoken and written words can stand for real objects and experiences. Play also helps children express themselves and put thoughts into words.


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