Best educational apps for Chicago kids

Q Which apps are the most educational for my preschooler?

A Many of today’s apps call themselves educational. More than 80 percent of the top-selling paid apps under the Educational category of the iTunes Store are designed for kids, and the majority of those target preschool and elementary school children.

Finding an educational app for your preschooler is often common sense. Apps that help children identify colors, shapes, letters and numbers are generally a good learning start. Apps that require sequencing, strategy and matching can be educational, depending on a child’s interest and abilities.

When choosing an app for your preschooler, follow these basic guidelines.

1 Do interact along with your child. Research shows that young children learn best by interacting with parents, caregivers and other children. If you are allowing your child to use an educational app, engage him or her like you would if you were reading a book or playing with a toy. Language-rich communication, touch and eye contact by a parent can boost the educational value when a child uses technology.

2 Don’t use an app as a babysitter. As tempting as it may be to let your little one play on a tablet while you make dinner or clean the house, keeping screen time to a minimum is best even when it is educational.

3 Do look for credible developers. Find apps endorsed by organizations that specialize in child development and research. “Museum Mix Up” (available on Google Play) was developed by The Fred Rogers Center to help young children learn about great works of art. “The Monster at the End of This Book” and “Sesame Street Family Play” are among the educational apps developed by Sesame Workshop.

4 Don’t judge an app by its cover. An app that claims to improve hand-eye coordination with bubble popping may be more entertainment than education. Look for reviews from reputable sources like Common Sense Media (CommonSenseMedia.com) before you download.

5 Do encourage unstructured, undirected, screen-free play. Designate the majority of your child’s play time as screen-free. Preschoolers develop social skills, small motor skills, problem-solving strategies and get exercise when they use their imagination to create their own stories, art and games.

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