Which “educational” apps are best for our kids?

child tablet

Just for funsies this morning I searched on Amazon for the word “educational” under the Apps & Games category. More than 20,000 “educational” apps popped up. I did the same search on the Google PlayStore. Results popped up and I began scrolling down. I never did reach the end of the list.

As a 21st century parent, I want to use technology wisely. If my kids are going to be immersed in a technological world, I want them to get the most out of the good technology that exists. But this morning’s search, and recent academic commentary, has me convinced that as of today we simply don’t know which apps can rightfully be called “educational” and which are called that simply for marketing purposes.

One of the industry’s largest academic publishers recently published a book called, “Media Exposure During Infancy and Early Childhood.” Many of my researcher colleagues wrote chapters for this book, and as I opened the book I expected to find all sorts of research showing that educational apps can be beneficial for children. What I found, however, was 19 well-written chapters of research showing what should makes apps “educational,” but very little research that actually tests the educational value of apps.

In other words, when parents ask me which apps they should get for their kids, there is hardly any research that exists upon which I can offer an intelligent response. We simply don’t know. I can share my hunch about which apps are good. For example, based on our research with the Daniel Tiger TV show, it’s a good bet that the Daniel Tiger app can help teach kids social and emotional skills. But we don’t have any published research yet showing that this is actually the case. These sentiments were recently echoed in a piece about technology in the classroom in the Dallas Morning News by some highly respected children and media scholars.

So, what’s a parent to do? Until we have more research, parents are left to anecdotal evidence from their own or others’ kids about what kids have learned while playing with apps. So, I pose the following questions to you—which apps have helped your kids learn what skills? If you could have research on any children’s “educational” app, what would the app be and what would you want to know? And if you were to design an app, what would you want it to teach?

I don’t mean for this post to be depressing, and I wish I could provide research-based suggestions on what apps you could comfortably let your child use. We’re working on a study right now that is addressing this question, so stay tuned. Until then, it’s up to us parents to do our best to pay attention to what our kids are learning from apps and to share what we observe with each other.


  1. First of all, great article. Secondly, I think television is what we call ‘Passive Learning’, in that they are learning – but it’s not really as great as it can be.

    I used to like ABC Mouse, but then I noticed that my oldest would rush through it and then spend more time building his mouse cage. Now I just go online and find some worksheets to download and print out. Both of my boys love that! There is even a program that will allow you to make your own word searches. I love that especially.

    Unfortunately, we are approaching a technological world where people are so immersed in screens, and even schools are implementing Chrome Books that have applications children get to play with. My child has his own Chrome Book he was provided with at school.

    It’s so hard to say what apps are actually educational, isn’t it? So many of them claim to be. I mean, I must see a commercial for this educational app or website and that, but nothing beats off-screen learning time.

    I feel like we should bring things back like that one typing program I used to do as a child. I forget what it is, but I like to think it helped me type well today. We really need to bring back computer SOFTWARE that is helpful for kids, not all these subscription-based application programs and websites. That’s such a load of garbage to me.

    In general, allowing children to have screen time without making it a learning process has helped my children. They get to play Minecraft or a Lego game on the Playstation for about an hour a day, and they have great fine motor skills. It even helped my 4-year old talk more, my oldest loves to narrate through Minecraft, and there are so many other benefits that I have noticed.

    Just give them screen time and make it fun. Children learn best through play. If you’re going to teach them, an Application or Website won’t cut it. Read stories, play, etc.

    Just keep it age and developmentally appropriate.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article! I have opted for and tried various apps for educational purposes in the elementary classroom. They are fun, engaging, and highly motivating. However, one conclusion I have arrived to is the more levels of customization are offered by the app (customizing target words, formats, names, sequence, concepts linked together or broached simultaneously), the more effective the use of the app in furthering and promoting lesson objectives or outcomes.

    Liked by 1 person

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